State status driving varied developments in arts districts
A billion-dollar economic tool is about to expand to Catonsville and experts say that could generate new and creative opportunities for the construction industry.
Late last year, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced that the business district stretching along Frederick Road and through to Lurman Woodland Theatre had been approved to become the county’s first state-designated Arts and Entertainment District.
The designation is considerably more than a formal recognition of Catonsville’s self- proclaimed status as Music City Maryland. The official A&E District status, which will go into effect in Catonsville on July 1, delivers state tax credits, facilitates access to some grants and typically attracts private investment and a mix of development. A 2019 study by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute concluded that new businesses and events in Maryland’s 27 A&E Districts combined produced more than $1 billion in economic impact in fiscal year 2018.
Additional incentives may further fuel arts and related developments in Catonsville. The A&E District closely resembles the town’s Commercial Revitalization District (CRD). Consequently, many A&E District projects could also access the county CRD tax credit, an Architect-on-Call program, interest-free building-improvement loans and Commercial Revitalization Action Grants (CRAGs), said Samantha O’Neil, Senior Advisor to the County Executive. “I think there are interesting pockets of investment that people should be on the lookout for.”
The types of developments that happen within A&E Districts tend to be highly varied, said Kathleen Lane, Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects, Baltimore Chapter. For the past two years, Lane has also served on the board of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corp. (BARCO), a nonprofit that drives economic redevelopment of neighborhoods by helping creative individuals and organizations establish attractive, affordable arts facilities.
“The arts are amazing catalyzers for a whole range of development types,” Lane said.
Baltimore’s Station North, for example, has experienced extensive redevelopment since it was designated as an A&E District in 2003, including artists’ studios and workshops, performance spaces, galleries, restaurants, bars, residences, retail and some unconventional facilities.
Centre Theatre was transformed into a multi-faceted facility that houses the Baltimore Jewelry Center (a gallery, shop, makerspace and education space), Impact Hub (a nonprofit incubator) and the remodeled theatre which now hosts the film programs of Johns Hopkins University and the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Nearby, “Open Works has been a really outstanding development,” Lane said. “It’s a work space that gives artists, artisans and small businesses access to incredible, affordable studio space and an incredible collection of tools,” including 3D printers, CNC milling machines, advanced woodworking and metalworking tools, commercial embroidery machines, industrial sewing machines, vinyl cutting equipment and more.
“It attracts people working in all kinds of different media, and it is spinning off all these new design-based and arts-based entrepreneurs,” Lane said.
The Catonsville A&E District and Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue District, which got its official standing in July 2019, are bound to attract new arts and related developments, she said.
Architecture, engineering and construction companies working on those projects should strive “to get in tune with your own inner artist,” she said. “Artists are singularly individual, and they are all very different in the ways they approach their work and their space. So designers and builders have to get creative, collaborate and co-create these spaces with the artists.”
Since many A&E District projects involve creating new facilities in old buildings, project teams also need to think creatively about how to meet code requirements, Lane added. “It requires some out-of-the-box thinking, but it can produce some great outcomes.”