Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Silver Spring officials seek to keep arts and entertainment district designation - Gazette

Title, set to expire in 2012, provides tax breaks and incentives to arts organizations

by Jeanette Der Bedrosian, Staff Writer, Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In the nearly 10 years since Silver Spring was designated Montgomery County’s first arts and entertainment district, the area has become a destination for festivals, high-caliber music performances and community theaters.

Now, county officials are drafting an application to keep the designation around for another decade.

The designation provides tax breaks and other incentives for businesses, theaters, arts nonprofits and other organizations to plant roots in Silver Spring. But as far as the area has come, there still is work to be done, residents and officials said at a forum Tuesday on the redesignation.

“The development of Silver Spring is incomplete, and there’s more work to be done,” said Alan Bowser, president of Silver Spring Town Center Inc., a nonprofit that plans programs for the Silver Spring Civic Building and Veterans Plaza. “The redesignation of Silver Spring as an arts and entertainment district would help that work be done by bringing more business and arts to the Silver Spring community.”

On the to-do list is expanding arts programs and organizations outside the central business district and into Cameron Street, South Silver Spring and Fenton Village, he said. Eugenia Park, a resident who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, said she wants to see a community ballroom dance space.

Having the title is beneficial for a district because it exempts certain taxpayers from the county amusement tax and allows property tax credits for certain renovated buildings, according to county law. There are 19 such districts in Maryland, including Bethesda, Wheaton and Silver Spring in Montgomery County.

Tina Benjamin, director of special projects within the county’s Department of Economic Development, said the county needs to submit its application to the state by Oct. 1. The application includes narratives of how Silver Spring has evolved, maps and lists of private and public properties within the district and lists of signature events and festivals, among other things. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development is charged with deciding whether to award the title for another 10 years, she said.

Silver Spring has grown as a cultural destination location during its tenure as an arts and entertainment district, many at the meeting said.

The area has attracted the AFI Silver Theatre, Round House Theatre, Lumina Studio Theatre, Bonifant Theatre Space, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center and the Fillmore music hall -- to name a few. That’s not including informal performances that take place on Veterans Plaza or in restaurants.

“People have been excited by what we have to offer here,” said Mike Diegel, a member of the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment Advisory Committee. “We’re getting a growing reputation as a place of destination for this kind of thing, and the word spreads. That’s the kind of thing we want to continue to encourage.”

Bowser said cultural events help bring Silver Spring’s cultures together and make Silver Spring attractive to all businesses, arts-themed or otherwise.

Many at the meeting said they couldn’t imagine Silver Spring not receiving the redesignation.

“We’ve got a critical mass already, and I think it will be hard to stop our momentum, but...everything is really only truly coming together now,” Bowser said. “It’s hard to see how anyone would look unfavorably on the application, because we’ve been so successful thus far.”

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