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Thursday, July 26, 2001

Westminster envisions creating arts district

Westminster envisions creating arts district

By: Megen Wessel, Times Staff Writer July 25, 2001

As the Carroll Arts Center project nears completion, Westminster officials hope to make the city more artist-friendly with possible help from newly passed legislation.

"The Carroll Arts Center is the first piece of the puzzle," said Westminster Councilman Damian Halstad, who broached the idea of an arts and entertainment district in Westminster during a City Council meeting earlier this month. "With that a reality, now would be a good time to start promoting the arts."

The legislation, signed in May by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, authorizes the secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to designate one or more arts and entertainment districts within a county each year, a department spokeswoman said.

The measure, which the General Assembly passed on the last day of the session, followed a similar one in Providence, Rhode Island. The state law lets localities create arts and entertainment districts where a series of tax breaks apply.

In 1996, Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. proposed legislation that later passed and provided tax exemptions on personal income tax and sales-and-use tax for artists living in the Arts and Entertainment District in the Downcity Area of Providence.

Another piece of legislation passed that same year focused on tax incentives to property owners who convert buildings formerly used for industrial or commercial use into residential units.

In the roughly 10-block-square downtown Providence district, artists can receive income tax breaks, art purchases are exempt from sales tax, and developers who create spaces for artists to live and work can avoid paying property tax on the value of the improvements for 10 years.

Maryland's bill, sponsored in the Senate by Baltimore Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, has some provisions that go beyond the Rhode Island law.

For instance, the Maryland legislation allows a local jurisdictioion to waive entertainment taxes in designated arts districts and expand a state economic development program so it can be used to fund arts-related projects.

The arts district concept has excited interest in many parts of the state, including Bowie, Hagerstown, Cumberland, Bethesda and smaller communities along the Prince George's County and Washington, D.C., line.

Although exact number of arts districts that can be created statewide in one year has yet to be determined, the law limits the number to six, said Karen Glenn, spokeswoman for the department of business and economic development.

Reach staff writer Megen Wessel at 410-751-5909 or mwessel at

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