The Hagerstown City Council will proceed with an expanded Arts and Entertainment District downtown, although tax breaks that had been considered for certain building projects in the district aren’t being expanded.
Since the district is being expanded, council members and city staff decided to not adopt some of the higher tax breaks they had been considering until they see how the district develops in coming years.
Every 10 years, the city must apply to the state for a redesignation of the district, one of 29 across Maryland that are designed to spur growth in arts and entertainment-related projects. Frederick has the largest Arts and Entertainment District with 362 acres. Hagerstown’s expansion would make it’s district about 160 acres.
Hagerstown’s original district mostly encompasses downtown, focused on South Potomac Street. Proposed changes to the district shape include stretching it up to the planned home of the Doleman Black Heritage Museum on Pennsylvania Avenue, east toward the former Washington County Hospital site on King Street, and south along the Hagerstown Cultural Trail to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in City Park.
It would also include the location of a planned multi-use baseball stadium at Summit Avenue and Baltimore Street. Besides professional baseball, the planned 5,000-seat stadium is also being eyed for outdoor concerts, festivals and other events.
The break on arts-related building projects is a tax credit on renovations.
The tax credit is applied to the change in assessed value due to renovations of buildings used by qualified artists and art enterprises. The tax credit is currently 50%, but it’s never been used in the 20 years of the district’s existence, city officials have said.
To encourage more interest in the credit, the council was considering increasing it in a tiered approach that gradually decreases the rate over a period of time.
That proposal would have given a 100% credit for three years, 80% over two years, 60% over two years, 40% for two years and 30% for one year.
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Out of “an abundance of caution,” city staff and the council agreed in a March 8 work session to keep the tax breaks at the 50% level.
A resolution allowing city staff to apply to the state for the redesignation was presented to council members during a regular session Tuesday night. The resolution, containing the new boundary and the revised tax breaks, passed on a 5-0 vote.
Aside from including the Doleman site, the old hospital site, the art museum and multi-use stadium, the public suggested other areas to include in the district through two input sessions in January and an online survey.
Those additional areas, which are in the new proposed district layout, include:
- A corridor along Jonathan Street where more commercial growth could occur
- Wheaton Park off Jonathan Street; the park is planned for an upgrade that includes possible art installations
- The Market House building on West Church Street which a private developer is planning to make into a brewery, distillery and winery, as well as a place that will offer special events and live entertainment
- The Greenwood District in the Baltimore Street area. The district is a community-based organization looking to empower and inspire minority groups. Property owners in the district are considering arts and entertainment-related projects
Other benefits in the Arts and Entertainment District include a state income tax subtraction modification for artists who work in the district, and an exemption on a state admissions and amusement tax. The tax, for example, is added to ticket prices for admission 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, said previously that the benefits in the Arts & Entertainment District are going to give spectators a 10% discount on their tickets for a game.
The stadium is expected to be completed by 2024 and construction could start at the site this year, project officials have said.