ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT DESIGNATION
MARCH 16, 2015
Mayor Cerino called the Public Hearing to order at 7:01 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2015. In attendance were Council Members Liz Gross, Linda C. Kuiper, Samuel T. Shoge and Mauritz Stetson, W. S. Ingersoll, Town Manager, Kees de Mooy, Zoning Administrator, Jennifer Mulligan, Town Clerk and guests.
Mayor Cerino stated that the purpose of this hearing was to discuss the Arts and Entertainment District designation and hear public comments.
Mr. de Mooy stated that a committee with representatives from the Maryland State Arts Council, Maryland Tourism and Economic Development, and Main Street visited Chestertown to meet with stakeholders and discuss the steps leading to Arts and Entertainment District designation.
Mr. de Mooy stated that Chestertown has become an arts destination with many festivals including Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend, Chestertown Tea Party, Jazz Festival, National Music Festival and Harry Potter Festival to name a few. He said that that Chestertown was featured in the most recent issue of American Craft, where it was described as “steeped in history and alive with a thriving craft community.”
Mr. de Mooy stated that Chestertown’s history as an arts community goes back to its founding, noting that Charles Peele came to Chestertown as Headmaster of the Kent School, which later became Washington College. His son, Charles Willson Peele, went on to become one of the most famous portraitists in American history, and painted several portraits of George Washington. In one of these portraits, his aide de camp – Tench Tilghman – appears, whose father James lived in Chestertown.
Mr. de Mooy stated that Chestertown went through a Public Arts Master Plan process funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Town partnered with RiverArts and created the Master Plan through a public process that identified where public arts should be located. He showed the Master Plan map to the audience. One of the features of the NEA-funded project is a public art piece that the Town hopes to have installed in Wilmer Park within the next two years called “Broad Reach,” by sculptor David Hess.
Mr. de Mooy stated that several tax benefits would be available for artists and arts related activities in the Arts and Entertainment District (AED). First, qualifying property owners or artists who improve property within the AED for an arts-related purpose, such as adding studio or performance space, are exempt from the property tax on the difference between the unimproved and improved assessment on that property. This tax benefit does not affect the existing property tax base for Chestertown, and does not apply to buildings or improvements that do not have an arts-related function.
Mr. de Mooy stated that another tax emption was an income tax subtraction modification, where a qualifying artist producing art in this or another AED in the State is exempt from Maryland State income tax on the sale of that art piece. The third tax benefit is an admissions and entertainment tax exemption allowed for for-profit businesses that were arts related, but at this time there were no facilities like that in the proposed AED.
Mr. de Mooy stated that the biggest benefit for Chestertown is the creation of an AED administrator, which is to be a new position funded with $25,000.00 from the Town, which will be matched by a private foundation at $25,000.00 for three years.
Mr. de Mooy stated that some of the partners in the designation process were RiverArts, Garfield Center for the Arts, Kent County Arts Council and Washington College’s SANDBOX.
Mr. Stetson asked how many artists reside or create art in Chestertown at this time. Mr. Bob Foss stated that there were approximately ten (10) artists who have studio space in Chestertown.
Mr. de Mooy stated that the proposal is to offer a 100 percent tax credit for the full ten (10) years of the AED designation.
Mr. Shoge asked if an A&E manager was a precondition for AED designation. Mr. de Mooy stated that there must be an A&E manager in order to meet the designation criteria. He added that the visiting AED committee had strongly recommended that the Town’s Main Street program be revived as part of the designation process, and that the full-time position would make that possible.
Ms. Kuiper stated that Main Street managers must go for mandatory training, and asked where those training costs would come from. Mr. de Mooy stated that there was money left in the Town’s Main Street budget, but he was uncertain if the State charged anything for training.
Ms. Lani Seikely of River Arts and the Greater Chestertown Initiative stated that she was a strong advocate of the Arts and Entertainment District Designation. She said that anonymous donors at the FFW Foundation were long-term, part-time residents of Chestertown who were committing to the matching funds for the economic development position, and were also planning to set aside funds for startup costs for new businesses.
Ms. Bob Foss, owner of a gallery at 200 High Street, stated that he was excited to see Chestertown apply for the Arts and Entertainment District designation. He said that the visitor experience to Chestertown was amazing because you could easily spend a couple days looking at world-class art that was created right here. He said that art brings a cultured tourist to Town with spending power and they would enrich the Town. Mr. Foss stated that Chestertown will become a cultural destination and bring visitors from New York to Washington and beyond.
Ms. Gail Register, Cannon Street resident, stated that she did not see the benefit to local residents of becoming an Arts and Entertainment District. She said she would prefer to see things that the everyday homeowner needs in Town, and that the designation would result in increased foot and vehicle traffic.
Mr. Jeff Grotsky, Chairman of the Chestertown Planning Commission, stated that the Arts and Entertainment District was discussed at their last meeting and there was unanimous support for the designation. He said he hoped to see support from the Mayor and Council.
Ms. Nancy McGuire, resident and former DCA president, stated that she was in support of the Arts and Entertainment District. She said that as a broker of real estate, this designation is an important addition to Chestertown’s identity and will enhance property values in Town.
Mr. Alex Castro, Washington College’s SANDBOX Director, stated that the designation would be a welcome addition to Chestertown for the arts community, and enriching for residents and visitors alike.
Ms. Leslie Raimond, Director of the Kent County Arts Council and Director of the Charles Sumner Grand Army of the Republic Post, stated that the arts exist in this community to help bring diverse groups together. She said that performers and artists add to the quality of life in Town.
Ms. Kuiper stated that she was in favor of the Arts and Entertainment District designation but wanted to know why Main Street had to be included as part of the designation. Mr. Shoge agreed. Mr. de Mooy stated that the Main Street was a separate issue that could be discussed when the new position description is formulated. Mr. Grotsky stated that in the meeting with the State of Maryland it was suggested that if Main Street was not included in the District’s designation application, the chances of becoming an Arts and Entertainment District may be diminished.
Mr. de Mooy stated that the new position to be created was for economic development, that the aims of Main Street and the Arts and Entertainment District were completely compatible and should work hand-in-hand.
There being no further business, Ms. Gross moved to close the public hearing for the Arts and Entertainment District at 7:45 p.m., was seconded by Mr. Stetson and carried unanimously.
Submitted by: Approved by:
Jennifer Mulligan Chris Cerino
Town Clerk Mayor