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This map shows the boundary lines of the proposed Catonsville Arts & Entertainment District.
This map shows the boundary lines of the proposed Catonsville Arts & Entertainment District. (Baltimore County Department of Planning)

Catonsville will be Baltimore County’s first state-recognized Arts & Entertainment District, as county officials attempt to make art a more centralized tourism draw, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Monday.

The southwestern Baltimore County neighborhood joins more than two dozen A&E districts in Maryland meant to spur economic development and revitalize those areas through tax advantages that attract more artists and art-related businesses, as well as boost tourism.

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The designation for Catonsville offers those incentives within its boundaries that span roughly 146 square acres from the 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.

The new district “ensures we will attract new artists and creative enterprises while ensuring our existing merchants continue to grow and thrive” in downtown Catonsville, Olszewski said in a statement.

The designation, awarded by the Maryland State Arts Council, takes effect July 1, 2020, and lasts for 10 years. Incentives offered by the new designation will include:

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

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

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

• Property tax credits for property owners who make improvements that increase their property’s value by $100,000;

• And property tax credits for developers whose improvements to existing buildings exceed $10 million.

The district designation, a proposal that was three years in the making, marks “an extraordinarily exciting time for the [Baltimore County Arts Guild], for the county and, most importantly, for the community of Catonsville,” said Marilyn Maitland, president of the Baltimore County Arts Guild, which spearheaded efforts with the Baltimore County departments of Economic and Workforce Development and Planning to submit the proposal.

“This is the first [arts and entertainment district] in the county, but as we move forward over time, we will see more of these designations in the county,” she said.

With the Maryland legislature giving Catonsville the symbolic title ‘Music City, Maryland’ in 2002, the southwestern Baltimore County area was a natural pick for the county’s first designation, Maitland previously said.

Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes Catonsville, said in a statement the designation will “further leverage our amazing assets to promote tourism” in the county.

A report commissioned by the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development recommended the county pursue arts and entertainment designations as a tourism draw, and found the county lagged behind other markets in offering arts-centered amenities.

In 2018, nearly 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.

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“This exciting designation highlights Catonsville’s vibrant history as well as its bright future,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. “Our administration is proud to support the revitalization of historic and artistic communities across our state, and ‘Music City, Maryland’ is a shining success story for Baltimore County.”

Kirby Spencer, vice president of the Baltimore County Arts Guild, said the designation indicates faith in what Catonsville can do regarding the arts and in Baltimore County generally. “But,” he added, “the work is ahead to make this a success.”

Managing the district’s tax programs falls under the county’s economic development department.

The A&E district “adds on additional benefits” to Catonsville’s commercial revitalization district, Spencer said. The county plans to expand that district to align more with the arts district’s boundaries.

Revitalization has already been taking place in Catonsville; the A&E district is just “almost like the icing on the cake,” Spencer said.

Maitland said the Dec. 7 dedication of a 4,600-square-foot mural on the side of the Catonsville Cube building on Frederick Road, sponsored by the county guild and state arts council, is a way of reaffirming the arts district announcement. The mural, titled “Forward,” will depict two young bicyclists riding from a city or a town to a forested, “magical” area.

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