Hagerstown Arts and Entertainment District Plan Approved

Hagerstown City Council will proceed with an expanded downtown arts and entertainment districtalthough tax breaks that had been considered for some construction projects in the neighborhood were not extended.

Because the district is in the process of expanding, council members and city staff decided not to enact some of the higher tax breaks they had considered until they saw how the district will grow in the years to come.

Every 10 years, the city must petition the state for a new designation of the district, one of 29 in Maryland designed to spur the growth of arts and entertainment projects. Frederick has the largest arts and entertainment district at 362 acres. The expansion of Hagerstown would make its district approximately 160 acres.

The original district of Hagerstown mainly encompasses the town center, focused on South Potomac Street. Proposed changes to the shape of the district include stretching to the planned home of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum on Pennsylvania Avenue, east to the former Washington County Hospital site on King Street, and south along the Hagerstown Culture Trail to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in City Park.

It would also include the location of a planned multi-purpose baseball stadium on Summit Avenue and Baltimore Street. Besides professional baseball, the planned 5,000-seat stadium is also popular for outdoor concerts, festivals, and other events.

The break on arts-related real estate projects is a renovation tax credit.

The tax credit is applied to the change in assessed value due to renovations of buildings used by qualified artists and arts businesses. The tax credit is currently 50%, but it has never been used in the neighborhood’s 20-year history, city officials said.

To encourage more interest in the credit, the board was considering raising it using a tiered approach that gradually lowers the rate over a period of time.

This proposal would have granted a credit of 100% over three years, 80% over two years, 60% over two years, 40% over two years and 30% over one year.

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In an “excess of caution,” city staff and council agreed at a March 8 business meeting to keep the tax breaks at the 50 percent level.

A resolution allowing city staff to ask the state to redesignate was presented to council members during a regular session Tuesday night. The resolution, containing the new limit and revised tax breaks, passed by a vote of 5 to 0.

In addition to including the Doleman site, the former hospital site, the art museum and the multi-purpose stadium, the public suggested other areas to be included in the neighborhood through two input sessions in January and an online survey.

These additional areas, which are included in the proposed new district plan, include:

  • A corridor along Jonathan Street where greater commercial growth could occur
  • Wheaton Park near Jonathan Street; the park is slated for an upgrade that includes possible art installations
  • The Market House building on West Church Street which a private developer plans to turn into a brewery, distillery and winery, as well as a venue that will host special events and live entertainment
  • The Greenwood neighborhood in the Baltimore Street neighborhood. The District is a grassroots organization that seeks to empower and inspire minority groups. Neighborhood landlords consider arts and entertainment projects

Other benefits in the Arts and Entertainment District include a change in the state income tax exemption for artists who work in the district and a state tax exemption on admissions and entertainment. The tax, for example, is added to the price of admission tickets to events.

Hagerstown businessmen Howard “Blackie” Bowen, one of three investors in Downtown Baseball LLC, which is bringing a new professional baseball team to the planned stadium, has previously said benefits in the arts and entertainment was going to offer spectators a 10% discount. on their match tickets.

The stadium is expected to be completed by 2024 and construction could begin at the site this year, project officials said.

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