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Quirk proposes arts and entertainment district for Catonsville, Arbutus, UMBC

Tom Quirk, who represents southwest Baltimore County on the County Council, is proposing an Arts and Entertainment District designation for portions of Catonsville and Arbutus.

The County Council is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to support the proposal. Quirk said Thursday he expected the measure to pass.

“Promoting arts and entertainment is important,” Quirk said in an interview. “It helps bring tourism, it helps bring creativity.”

The vote is a preliminary step necessary for the county to request that the Maryland Arts Council designate the area an Arts and Entertainment District.

If adopted, the resolution promises that if the state council designates the area an Arts and Entertainment District, Baltimore County will:

  • Exempt arts and entertainment businesses in the district from paying taxes on admissions or amusement charges;
  • Provide interest-free and low-interest loans up to $30,000 for exterior improvements to commercial buildings;
  • Provide property tax credits for those whose improvements increase their property values by $100,000 or more;
  • Provide property tax credits for those who spend more than $10 million on improvements to a property in the district.

Quirk said he expects that the impact on revenues may be “slightly negative,” but he said “the trade-off, I think, is worthwhile.” The narrowly focused map, he said, which connects each business district by a single road, is intended to prevent the county from losing too much tax revenue.

A Towson University study found that, on average, Maryland’s 24 arts districts each boosted tax revenues by an average of more than $2 million in fiscal year 2016. In total, the districts directly created more than 6,000 jobs, and most of the benefit came from visitors’ spending at events and festivals, according to the study.

The southwestern arts district would start from the main business district of Catonsville surrounding Frederick Road. It would stretch through Lurman Woodland Theatre to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Then it would extend to the downtown Arbutus area around East Drive and Southwestern Boulevard, then north to the Baltimore County Arts Guild on Maiden Choice Lane.

“There isn’t a single Arts and Entertainment district in Baltimore County,” said Tom Moore, UMBC Arts and Culture director, at a County Council work session last week. “We would love to change that pattern.”

Quirk said that UMBC’s cooperation was “instrumental” in getting the proposal off the ground by giving it “additional credibility, and a lot of capability.”

“We have more than 100,000 people per year coming to southwest Baltimore County to enjoy the arts,” Moore told the County Council, citing arts festivals and UMBC’s art galleries and performances. “But I don’t think people think of us as a destination point, and we’d like to change that.”

Marilyn Maitland, president of the Baltimore County Arts Guild, said the organization considered multiple areas in the county to recommend as arts districts, but settled on the southwest area because it was more “ready.”

“We said we are going to miss out if we don’t seize this wonderful opportunity,” Maitland said in an interview.

Quirk credited Maitland, arts guild Vice President Kirby Spencer and group co-founder Jack Murphy with driving the initiative forward.

“Hardly a day went by that I didn’t feel like they were talking to me about this,” Quirk said. “They’re really tenacious, really persistent and they’re great advocates.”

The state council evaluates areas for designation based on whether they have existing features, including arts institutions, festivals and revitalization districts.

Examples of those features in Catonsville and Arbutus include the Lurman Woodland Theatre, the Catonsville Arts and Crafts Festival and the Arbutus Arts Festival. Both areas also have county designated Commercial Revitalization districts.

At the session, Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents an area that includes Reisterstown, praised the arts guild’s efforts, saying they are “laying the groundwork” for future arts districts in the county.

If the resolution passes Monday, Maitland said the county will submit an application prepared by the Baltimore County Arts Guild to the Maryland Arts Council, which will decide whether to accept the designation. Quirk said he recently met with state council leaders and that they seemed “very interested” in the proposal.

Quirk said in an interview he considers the proposed district a “starting point” — if it has a positive impact, he said, other areas of the county could also become arts districts.

“Focusing on arts and entertainment clearly has been proven to bring in tourism and a certain energy,” Quirk said. “I think it’s just one more positive thing going on.”

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