A large swath of downtown Baltimore's west side would become the city's third state-designated arts and entertainment district, and the state's 20th, if Maryland economic development officials approve a city application designed to strengthen the area.
The proposed Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District is a 117-acre tract that would join districts in Station North and Highlandtown as city areas in which individuals and businesses would be eligible for tax breaks for arts-related activities and investments.
City officials and arts advocates say the designation would help fill vacant storefronts and make the area more of a magnet for theaters, galleries, artists' housing, and other attractions and activities.
They say it also would help promote existing entertainment venues included in the proposed district, such as the Hippodrome Theatre, by reinforcing the area's reputation as a cultural hub.
"It sends a strong message to Baltimoreans, and to people from out of state, that the west side of downtown is open for business," said Brian Greenan, coordinator of downtown's west side for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. "We are sending the message that we want people in the arts to come here and sell products here and invest in properties here."
A seven-member panel created by the Maryland State Arts Council met Friday to evaluate the city's application and forward a recommendation to the secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development. A decision is expected by June 1.
If the application is approved, the arts district designation would take effect July 1, with some tax benefits beginning in January 2013, according to Theresa Colvin, executive director of the arts council, which oversees the program.
Colvin declined to discuss the panel's recommendation, but she said Baltimore's west side was the only new arts district proposed for Maryland in the current six-month application period. She said the arts council also is processing requests this spring to redesignate arts districts in Station North, Hagerstown, Cumberland and Bethesda. Decisions on those requests also are expected by June 1.
Since taking office in 2010, Rawlings-Blake has made rejuvenating downtown's west side a priority of her administration.
Benefits of arts district designation include state income tax breaks for qualified artists working and living in approved areas, as well as tax breaks for owners of commercial buildings renovated for arts-related uses.
Baltimore's first arts district, Station North, was created in 2001 and covers about 100 acres north of Pennsylvania Station. The city's second arts district, in Highlandtown and Patterson Park, was established in 2003 and covers 358 acres on both sides of Eastern Avenue. It is up for redesignation next year.
According to the city's application, the Bromo Tower district would be a long, narrow area bounded roughly by Park Avenue on the east, Lombard Street on the south, Paca Street on the west and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Read Street on the north. It takes its name from the Bromo Seltzer tower, a Eutaw Street landmark that was built by the inventor of the headache remedy and that now houses artists' studios.
Other attractions in the proposed district include the France-Merrick center, the Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center, Arena Players and the Town Theater, the new home for Everyman Theatre.
According to Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, the district includes about 60 properties owned by either the city or the University of Maryland-Baltimore that could be redeveloped for arts-related uses.
The proposed district has hundreds of properties and about 2,000 residents, Gilmore said.
Under the city's proposal, the Bromo Tower district would initially be managed by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which manages the Bromo Tower studios and has led the effort to create the west side arts district. Eventually, Gilmore said, a separate nonprofit organization would be formed to manage the west side arts district, in the same way that a nonprofit manages the Station North arts district.