Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Anemic Arts and Culture Plan

A friend passed on this link in regarding the Arts And Culture District Overlay in Leesburg, Virginia. The Leesburg town council voted to create the overlaly district in March of 2011.

From the Article:

In 2009, the Virginia General Assembly passed enabling legislation to give cities and towns in the state the authority to create boundaries for their own arts and cultural districts and offer tax incentives in doing so. The council voted to create the Arts & Cultural District in March 2011, and the ordinance was enacted that July.

The incentives created for artists to move to the overlay district are listed as:

Both BPOL and real estate tax rebates are offered to the qualifying organizations over a 10-year period. If 50 percent or more of the gross receipts of the Qualified Arts Organization are generated from an activity that qualifies the business for the incentives, the business would be eligible for a 100 percent BPOL rebate in year one; 90 percent in year two; 80 percent in year three; and the number would continue to decrease by 10 percent each year. The same rebate schedule would be true for town real estate tax rebates. Qualifying businesses are also entitled to zoning fee exemptions. To receive the incentives, qualified businesses, whether new or existing, must apply to the town manager to be eligible.

Now I don't know about you, but not many artists I know of are in the market to purchase the buildings their studios are located in. So real estate taxes aren't much of an incentive to the average artist. As for BPOL, the tax rate in Leesburg for retail merchants is .1%, so if you do say, $30,000 worth of business (which many artists would love to have), the tax rate is $30.00

Think about that... the artist's incentive to move to the arts and culture district is $30.00. But this peters down by $3 per year... $27 in year two, $24 in year three, etc..

To qualify for this whopping $30, applicants had to submit a five year business plan! Again from the site:

"We hadn't really gotten any applications to apply for the district," she said. "We found that local arts organizations found the application to be a bit cumbersome, specially in the area of the requirement for [submitting] a five-year business plan and pro forma."

These folks sound honestly surprised that their incentives didn't work. Arts and Culture Districts are being hawked as the savior of economic development in small towns and neighborhoods across the country. And they think artists are going to come running for $30?

The article concludes:

Outreach to community partners and businesses will continue, and a future meeting with the recently-established Friends of Leesburg Public Arts 501(c)(3) is planned. In looking at ways to continue to open up the district to new businesses, and to make the application process easier, the task force proposed three amendments to the Town Code, which the council initiated this week. These include: amending the code to extend the period of time that existing businesses have to apply to six months; amending the code to eliminate the need for a five-year business plan if a business has been in continuous operation within the district for five or more years; and amending the code to include graphic art design within the definition of a Qualified Arts Organization. These Town Code amendments will come back to the council for review and a vote.

If any of you have been reading this blog for any period of time, can I just say "I told you so"? Anyone want a friendly wager that revision 1 won't work?

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