Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What Happened With The Capital Arts District Bill

So, last night was the vote on R-08-08: the bill to form the Arts and Entertainment District here in the city. The bill passed, but the process is very confusing. Therefore, I will do what I do--make the complex understandable.

Let's start from the beginning. The state runs this program, and it is already in place in some cities--possibly Hyattsville, Frederick, Cambridge, and maybe some others. Who knows. The state determines which artists and entertainers are eligible to participate in this district, and mandates certain tax advantages for those people. Apparently--in a time long, long ago--the city applied to the state for this program and was passed over for one reason or another. Alderman Cordle pointed out that there must have been a reason, suggesting that maybe this is a dumb idea.

The state sets the parameters for application to this program. If the city didn't abate property taxes in the district, for example, the application would have been rejected. The purpose of the program is to enhance economic development of the city as a result of creating an arts district, a process which apparently involves black magic, as I have a degree in economics and cannot recall a correlation between arts districts and economic development. The city's only real responsibilities are to (1) decide that this program is a good idea (2) make sure their application complies with the requirements and (3) draw the map.

Therein lies the problem. Deciding that this program is a good idea has basically been taken for granted, or so it seems. That citizens of one particular profession should support citizens of another profession, via the taxes of the former subsidizing the taxes of the latter, is appalling. It is less appalling when we are supporting public servants, and is even less appalling--perhaps even a good idea--when we are supporting public servants that risk their lives. But artists? Why are they entitled to special treatment? What about caterers? What about landscapers? Don't be surprised if this keeps going and the only people actually paying taxes in 10 years are used car salesmen and the "stop/slow" guys on construction sites. (Those guys are purposefully evil and live to see traffic stopped.)

Even if you think this district is a good idea, you may still have an objection as to how the map. As with most things that give advantageous treatment to some at the expense of others, it is nearly impossible to figure out which areas should be included and which should be excluded. I think the Mayor mentioned changing the map on 11 different occasions.

The lack of consensus on the map boundaries was the issue that almost derailed the bill. Councilman Cohen came to testify, and asked the council to postpone the bill so there could be more time to study the new map drawing, as the most recent version was only introduced last night! Alderman Paone led a spirited charge for such a postponement, stating that he hadn't even been informed about changes to the map and his ward and his ignorance made him look like a big jackass to his constituents. Aldermen Cordle, Stankivic, and Israel agreed, with Alderman Israel actually producing an opinion from the Attorney General that postponing the bill would not prohibit the application from being accepted by the state.

Moyer, Hoyle, Finlayson, and Arnett then immediately launched into successive diatribes saying that they needed to pass the bill right away, and anything less would result in killing the bill. (Alderman Shropshire was apparently thinking about what to make for dinner, because he didn't say much on the issue. However, his vote was never in doubt, as rumor has it that the Mayor was prepared to postpone the bill herself if he wasn't back from vacation to vote for it.) So the vote to postpone failed, 5-4.

The vote on the actual bill, however, was 6-3 in favor. Alderman Paone voted for the bill even though he led the fight to postpone. I would have done the same thing--everyone agreed that Clay St. should be included in the district, and since Clay St. is in his ward, voting in the negative on the roll call would have been a political nightmare.

So, now we have an arts and entertainment district, with boundaries you can see HERE.

1 comment:

patrice d said...

There are two obvious themes to your post: One is what seems to be the ineptitude of the city government, and two is the (to use your word) appallingly narrow-minded, dollars-only view that a bill to form an arts district is inane. Thank goodness the bill passed and there is an opportunity to create a more well-rounded community. Who says supporting one profession means excluding another? I'm sure you noticed that the tax credits are temporary. The idea is to BUILD the district - not support artists forever. I'm glad for you that you are an economic genuis, but generally in towns that are experiencing economic growth it is because there is something to SEE and something to DO that is interesting, different, attractive. It then follows that people go to SEE and DO that interesting, different and attractive experience. With gas prices the way they are, people are looking to explore closer to home - secondary cities are becoming more of a destination than ever before. And it will require a unified effort; a spirit embraced by the community - the a&e district alone won't bring in droves of tourists on its own, of course. I won't argue that we will need good oversight to work with the state and ensure the area grows in a way that enhances the entire area and city of Annapolis. If your accounting of the council process is an accurate representation of how they usually operate, then of course there is cause for concern. But let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. It's in place. Let's embrace it, contribute to it's success, and use to the benefit of the entire city.
PS -Thank you for posting the map -it clears up the confusion - slightly.