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Community arts districts now under consideration

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

CHARLES TOWN – For at least the past two regular sessions of the West Virginia Legislature, bills have been introduced that would allow arts districts to be established in communities.

While passing the Senate, the bills have died in committee in the House of Delegates.

Proponents hope similar legislation will be reintroduced during next year’s legislative session and they hope it gets further than it has in the past.

If enacted, the legislation would create tax enhancements and funding sources for officially designated arts districts, which would be treated like special economic development districts.

The idea is to develop arts-based economic districts by offering incentives and funding sources that would attract both businesses and consumers.

“It’s a key tool in urban redevelopment,” explained Steven Skinner, an attorney in Charles Town and member of the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

“It can overlay other redevelopment districts, like historic districts or the brownfield site in Charles Town and Ranson.”

The Charles Town/Ranson brownfield area consists of several former industrial sites straddling the two cities’ common border and is designated for redevelopment. American Public University System is building its new academic center in the brownfield area.

Skinner is working with others to have Jefferson County designated a Certified Arts Community by the WVAC.

CAC designation does not provide any funding or tax breaks, but can be used to promote the area as a home for artists and artisans as well as a destination for arts patrons.

He said in a recent telephone interview that if Jefferson County wins its CAC, it would be a step toward influencing future arts district legislation.

“If we get involved with the legislation, we can have our voices heard,” he said.

“It’s better to get out in front and direct the legislation. It’s better to get on the bus while it’s traveling slowly.”

Hagerstown and Cumberland, Md., both have been successful in taking advantage of incentives offered by the state, in addition to offering their own incentives, to develop thriving arts and entertainment districts in their once-blighted downtowns regions.