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Maryland approves tax incentives for ‘Music City’ in Catonsville

Maryland named Catonsville Baltimore County’s first Arts & Entertainment District on Monday, granting the area tax incentives aimed at boosting arts related businesses.

Home to a collection of music stores and nearby performance venues, Catonsville has sought to brand itself as “Music City, Maryland.”  The Maryland Department of Commerce said the district covers the suburban town’s major retail area along Frederick Street to the Lurman Woodland Theater.

“The A&E Districts program bridges a critical connection between the arts and economic development,” Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz said in a statement. “With a critical mass of arts events, organizations, and businesses as well as independent artists, our network of districts across Maryland are helping to fuel Maryland’s economy and are central to our strong communities.”

Renovated commercial properties in the district are eligible for a property tax credit based on the difference of assessed value before and after upgrades are complete. Artists who meet the state definition and live in the district are eligible for income tax modifications. Local businesses can also be exempted from taxes on admission and amusements.

From Berlin to Oakland, Maryland jurisdictions have sought designation as arts districts to boost business and lure visitors. In 2018 those districts generated in excess of $1 billion in state gross domestic product, which measures goods made and services provided, according to a report released in April by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute.

That same study estimated the districts supported 9,987 jobs overall during fiscal year 2018, with $320.8 million in total wages. Business activity in the districts are estimated to have generated $72.1 million in total tax revenue in fiscal year 2018.

Receiving status as an arts district, however, doesn’t guarantee a thriving community of artists and related businesses, and it doesn’t automatically transform commercial properties taking hold in a community.

Maryland approved Baltimore’s Bromo Tower Arts & Entertainment District in 2012 to help revitalize downtown’s Westside neighborhood. The designation covers 117 acres roughly bordered by Baltimore Street up Park Avenue and Howard Street to Eutaw Street and along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Once the region’s premiere retail draw, suburban flight hit the area hard and left it blighted, straddled with large unwanted department stores, rotting theater buildings and a struggling public market.

Over the last several years projects in the entertainment district attracted some significant new investment. But the transformation remains a work in progress, and the tax incentives have yet to create an arts community beyond established theaters, like the Hippodrome Theatre.

Baltimore released a report in 2015 evaluating the impact of the districts. The panel’s report to then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake included 27 recommendations panelists believed would improve results within designated arts districts.

Those suggestions included broadening the definition of artists to include professions, such as fabrication; placing an emphasis on preserving affordable spaces for artists to live; and extending property tax credits to new construction.

Despite the district’s shortcomings the city has continued pursuing new arts district designations.  In July Maryland named a section of Pennsylvania Avenue in west Baltimore as The Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District.

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