State officials have marked the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor as an official arts and entertainment district, aiming to recapture the vibrant arts and cultural scene that once thrived there.
The Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District will join more than two dozen other districts around the state that qualify for tax breaks to help attract artists, arts groups and others to revitalize and promote areas of Maryland where there is economic development promise but insufficient resources.
West Baltimore's Pennsylvania Avenue once represented a black cultural hub, but has since evolved into a district heavily concentrated with crime and abandoned properties. A group of public officials, non-profit leaders and residents seek to transform it into an arts and entertainment district.
The town of Easton on the Eastern Shore was also designated, and Frostburg in Western Maryland was re-designated for another decade, bringing the total to 28 districts in 18 counties and Baltimore City, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce.
The goal is to attract the artist community to settle in an area in a coordinated way, and in return boost both the social and economic fabric of the community.
“Maryland’s Arts and Entertainment Districts serve an important role in revitalizing communities across the state,” said state Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, in a statement. “This designation helps attract artists and creative businesses and gives counties and municipalities the ability to develop unique arts experiences that engage residents and attract visitors. I look forward to seeing how these districts utilize the designations for community and economic revitalization.”
The areas were created in 2001 and are managed by the Maryland State Arts Council. A recent economic impact study shows that in fiscal 2018, the districts delivered about $72 million in state and local taxes and 9,987 jobs and supported $320 million in wages.
The state arts agency said Easton has long been known for its art galleries and studios, performance venues and concert halls, and should benefit from growing interest in events in the historic downtown and arts-related businesses.
Along Pennsylvania Avenue, community groups sought the designation based on the area’s storied past as an entertainment hub. The area was home to the Royal and Metropolitan theaters and other clubs such as the Arch Social Club, Bamboo Lounge, Club Casino and Club Tijuana, which attracted top black entertainers of the day.
With the state’s designation, people who develop parcels in the district could receive property tax credits for new construction or renovation of spaces where artisans can live, work or perform. There also can be an income tax subtraction for artistic work produced and sold within the district and other tax exemptions for artists who reside there.