Arts consultant Elizabeth Gallauresi, center left, and William “Chris" McCollum, center right, director of anchor initiatives for Baltimore County, take public comment during Baltimore County Arts Guild’s community meeting at its Arbutus office Sept. 26 on the county’s arts and entertainment district application, submitted to the Maryland State Arts Council Oct. 1.
Arts consultant Elizabeth Gallauresi, center left, and William “Chris" McCollum, center right, director of anchor initiatives for Baltimore County, take public comment during Baltimore County Arts Guild’s community meeting at its Arbutus office Sept. 26 on the county’s arts and entertainment district application, submitted to the Maryland State Arts Council Oct. 1. (Taylor DeVille)

Baltimore County is poised to get its first state-designated Arts & Entertainment District, in Catonsville, which officials hope will be a boon to the local economy.

While the scope of the proposed district has shrunk considerably from a plan put forth last year, advocates say the designation, if granted, will solidify Catonsville’s identity as Music City, Maryland and could open the door to more artistic pursuits throughout the county.

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“In the state of Maryland, we say the arts are good business,” said arts consultant Elizabeth Gallauresi, who has been advising the Baltimore County Arts Guild on its state application.

With an array of historic artist-owned shops, galleries, public art spaces and murals, “Catonsville is already a successful arts district,” Gallauresi said. “They just don’t have the [state] designation."

Arts & Entertainment districts in Maryland offer tax incentives for artists and developers with the goal of drawing in tourists and supporting revitalization initiatives, among other advantages.

Three years ago, the Baltimore County Arts Guild began discussions to secure Baltimore County’s first Arts & Entertainment District designation from the state. In partnership with the county, the guild proposed the Patapsco Arts District, meant to span more than 400 square acres and include Catonsville, Arbutus and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Out of 28 Arts & Entertainment District designations handed out by the Maryland State Arts Council since 2001, county stakeholders were advised that none matched the overly broad scope of the former Patapsco Arts District proposed by the county last year. Subsequently, Arbutus and UMBC were dropped from the proposal.

The new proposal “is more in keeping with expectations from the state,” said Tom Moore, director of arts and culture in UMBC’s Office of Institutional Advancement.

The new proposed Catonsville Arts & Entertainment District by Baltimore County Department of Planning.
The new proposed Catonsville Arts & Entertainment District by Baltimore County Department of Planning. (Baltimore County Department of Planning)

In prior years, the Maryland State Arts Council had a standard of approving arts districts that blanketed 100 contiguous acres, Gallauresi said.

From the state council’s perspective, managing an arts district of the original size would have been difficult for Baltimore County, said Marilyn Maitland, president of the Baltimore County Arts Guild.

While Arbutus is left out of the redrawn district, Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, said, “I’d rather see them start out small and get it right” before expanding. She added that Arbutus could still benefit from Catonsville’s designation if it succeeds in drawing in more visitors to the southwestern part of the county.

UMBC, which hosts about 150 public performances, exhibitions and other arts and cultural events each year, would not necessarily have benefited by being included in the district, “but it does benefit us to have an A&E District” adjacent to the campus, Moore said.

For UMBC students, faculty and staff, “we’d like them to think of Catonsville as a place to go for arts and entertainment,” he said.

While Catonsville may be the first city Baltimore County has advanced for the state designation,it likely won’t be the last. In 2016, the Baltimore County Arts Guild convened an ad hoc Baltimore County Arts and Entertainment Council, which included representatives from Dundalk, Pikesville and Arbutus, along with Catonsville, Maitland said.

Each of those towns has its own art assets, but with Catonsville’s Music City moniker, proclaimed by the state legislature in 2002, and overall reputation, there was consensus on the council that it and neighboring Arbutus would be a shoo-in as the county’s first applicant for the state designation, Maitland said.

Maryland municipalities can submit just one A&E application per year, Gallauresi said.

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Catonsville seeks Baltimore County’s first Arts & Entertainment District designation
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While the initial Patapsco Arts District proposal was not outrightly rejected, the state arts council suggested narrowing its ambition; the Catonsville Arts & Entertainment District proposal now spans about 146 square acres, running from Lurman Woodland Theatre on Bloomsbury Avenue, to Arbutus Avenue near Route 695, then north to Baltimore County Public Library’s Catonsville branch on Frederick Road.

During a community meeting on the proposal last month, advocates said the arts are a powerful tool for economic development, challenging “the traditional model of the old commercial districts,” said Mel Mintz of the 1,000 Friends of Pikesville community organization.

“There needs to be something else to get folks out of their house,” he said.

If approved, the designation would give artists and developers in the district access to various incentives, including:

• Exempting businesses that promote arts and entertainment from the county’s 10% admissions and amusement tax;

• Exempting artists who make and sell their work within the district from state income tax;

• Providing up to $30,000 in loans for exterior upgrades to commercial buildings at little to no interest;

• Giving property tax credits to property owners who make improvements that increase the property’s value by $100,000;

• Giving property tax credits to developers whose improvements to existing buildings exceeds $10 million.

To maximize tax incentives for redevelopment, the proposed boundary lines for the A&E District follow the boundaries of Catonsville’s commercial revitalization district “as much as possible,” but the revitalization boundary doesn’t extend down Bloomsbury Avenue, Gallauresi said. The county’s revitalization districts offers property tax credits, grants and loan programs.

If the arts designation is received, the county plans to amend the commercial revitalization lines to align with the arts district, Chris McCollum, director of anchor initiatives for the county, said during a community input meeting last month.

Last year, almost 10,000 jobs were created within the state’s then-25 arts and entertainment districts, and more than $1 billion was added to the state’s gross domestic product, according to a report by the Maryland State Arts Council.

In Baltimore County, 1.5% of the total workforce is in the arts industry, according to McCollum. That’s “generating real pay for people,” McCollum said.

“What we’re trying to do here is make sure we get a model that we can replicate” elsewhere, he said.

Maitland sees the tax benefits bringing in more studio space for artists along with the redevelopment of blighted or disused buildings like the old Catonsville Elementary School as an anchor institution in the district.

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The arts designation should spur economic growth, Maitland said, adding that “I envision joy, community experience, partnership building.”

For Catonsville-based artist Kate Arslambakova, whose art is what she called a “side hustle,” the designation could open the door for more exposure. If the designation were to lead to more venues and gallery spaces, it could increase interest in the Catonsville art scene and offer more opportunities to exhibit work, she said.

McCollum said County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is planning to commit sizable funds for arts development in the county in the coming budget cycles. The county’s tourism budget, which encompasses funding for arts development, is $1.84 million this fiscal year.

A strategic tourism report commissioned by the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development concluded that the county is lagging behind other markets in amenities like convention facilities and regional performing arts. That report recommended the county pursue arts and entertainment designations as a tourism draw. .

“Baltimore County should be a world-class tourist destination,” according to a statement from Olszewski’s office.

A decision on the county’s arts application is expected in December.

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