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Legislators want to make Pennsylvania Avenue an arts district

Baltimore delegates to the Maryland General Assembly have introduced a bill to create an economic development area to promote the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor in west Baltimore as a place to live and do business.

House Bill 203 designates the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor as an arts, business and cultural district, with tax incentives for developers, artists and cultural groups. The district's boundaries are from Orchard Street on the south to Fulton Street on the north, Pennsylvania Avenue on the west to McCulloh Street on the east. It includes the Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North neighborhoods. 
The bill's broad goals are to restore cultural landmarks, preserve and reuse historical buildings, encourage business and job development, establish a tourist destination and enhance property values. It authorizes tax credits for qualifying individuals who own or rent residential property or conduct a business in the district, or who move there after it has been established. Qualifying individuals are eligible for property tax credit and exemption from admissions and amusement tax.
The bill does not specify funding sources for the redevelopment. “You want to establish the district first and the dollars will follow,” says Democratic Delegate Keiffer Mitchell, Jr., a co-sponsor of the bill who represents the district. “There is an array of possible funding that the city and state could use.”
“Some commercial development is going on already on Pennsylvania Avenue but I’d like to encourage other types of development,” says Democratic Delegate Melvin Stukes, lead sponsor of the bill who also represents the district.
Stukes says he wants to encourage the development of the cultural aspects of the corridor, in particular the construction of a new arts center that would house the Royal Theatre and the Arena Players. The Royal Theatre opened in 1922 and was demolished in 1971. It was a major destination for black entertainers, including Cab Calloway and Ray Charles. The Arena Players is currently housed at 801 McCulloh St.
“I see a lot of black history in Baltimore disappearing and I am determined to save as much as possible,” Stukes says.
Mitchell says the district would not be the first such district in Baltimore. That honor goes to the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. 
“It will help not just Pennsylvania Avenue but all the housing surrounding it, from McCulloh Street to Pennsylvania Avenue,” Mitchell says.
Says Stukes, “This not something that will happen overnight. We don’t have preliminary figures for the cost and how long it will take. But we want to begin a serious discussion on having it happen.”

The bill had its first reading before the House Economic Matters Committee last month. To date, a hearing has not been scheduled. If passed, the arts, business and cultural district designation would need approval from the Baltimore City Council. 

Nonetheless, both Stukes and Mitchell say they are optimistic about passage in the General Assembly. “Economic development for the City of Baltimore is viewed favorably,” Mitchell says. “And in terms of revitalizing the arts in the city and that this is an historical area, it bodes well for passage.”
Sources: Melvin Stukes and Keiffer Mitchell, Jr., Maryland House of Delegates
Writer: Barbara Pash

Historic Baltimore Tour Gets a Following

Baltimore Heritage, a historic preservation nonprofit, says several hundred people have downloaded its new app for touring historic neighborhoods of Baltimore.

Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritages' field officer, says that he hopes the growth continues as it adds more neighborhoods and features. These include the neighborhoods of Mount Vernon and Franklin Square, neighborhood churches and other sacred landmarks. 

“The idea is to explore historic neighborhoods in a fun and informative way,” Pousson says.

The free app, which can be used on Android devices and iPhones, is available on its newly redesigned webiste or from the app store. 

The app is built on an open source platform developed by Cleveland State University that has already been used to create similar apps in Cleveland, St. Paul, New Orleans and Miami. Baltimore Heritage is using material it already had researched along with new material that was created for the app by students at University of Maryland Baltimore County.
“We don’t intend to commercialize it. That’s not our mission,” Pousson says. Baltimore Heritage works in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The app has historical photographs, short essays and oral histories about different Baltimore City places. Users can select from different options for self-guided tours of neighborhoods like Station North Arts and Entertainment District or Bolton Hill, or for thematic tours, such as a War of 1812 tour.
Source: Eli Pousson, Baltimore Heritage
Writer: Barbara Pash

State Spends $37M On Upgrades To Benefit The Bay

Maryland is spending more than $37 million on technology improvements to septic systems and wastewater treatment plants around the state, including two plants in Baltimore City. The funding is intended to enhance the plants’ efficiency and create jobs, says Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The state’s Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Project has designated 67 major plants for improvement. To date, 25 plants been upgraded, with another 16 plants scheduled to be completed by 2013. The goals of the long-term and ongoing project are to reduce pollution and to improve water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.
Apperson says that water quality-related projects in the current fiscal year account for about 5,000 jobs. Water quality-related refers to wastewater treatment plant and septic system improvements and to drinking water projects.

The latest funding is part of a series of grants from the Chesapeake Bay Water Quality Project.

The current funding goes to the following:
• $13 million to Back River Plant, Baltimore City, which has previously received $20 million from the project and other state sources;
• $3.7 million to Patapsco Plant, Baltimore City, which has previously received about $139 million from the project and other state sources;
• $2 million to New Windsor Plant, Carroll County, to help pay off a previous $3.8 million loan; and,
• $3.7 million to Emmitsburg Plant, Frederick County, in addition to a previous $1.7 million grant.

In addition, $14.8 million has been allocated to counties throughout the state for septic system upgrades.
The Baltimore City plants are two of the largest in the state. Improvements at Back River would reduce nitrogen discharge by 67 percent at Back River and by 83 percent at Patapsco that ultimately goes into the Chesapeake Bay, according to Apperson.
Source: Jay Apperson, Maryland Department of the Environment
Writer: Barbara Pash

Local Filmmakers Create Documentary on Chesapeake Bay

Local filmmakers have made a documentary about efforts to preserve the Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
The film airs on Maryland Public Television (MPT) April 17 and will be on permanent view at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. Executive Producer Tim Junkin says he plans to send the documentary to churches and other organizations after the airing.
Originally budgeted at $100,000, the documentary was produced for “almost nothing,” says Junkin, thanks to “donated time and pro bono” work.
Junkin, executive director of the nonprofit Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, served as executive producer and writer of “Let Our Rivers Flow,” a 25-minute-long, color film about the Midshore rivers, which include the Choptank, Miles and Wye rivers and Eastern Bay.
Junkin says the documentary describes the rivers, their history and current ecological status, and what people in the communities are doing to preserve them.
Last year, a shorter, 18-minute-long version of the documentary was shown at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, in Easton. For the current documentary, which was professionally filmed, edited and scored, several scenes were reshot.
Tom Horton, a former Baltimore Sun environmental reporter and the author of several articles and books, narrates the documentary. Bird Dog Wheeler provides music production; Sandy Cannon-Brown is editorial director and producer; and Patrick Anderson is principal photographer.
“Let Our Rivers Flow” airs during MPT’s Chesapeake Bay Week.
Source: Tim Junkin, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy
Writer: Barbara Pash

MD-Asia Environmental Partnership Hosts Clean Water Summit

The Maryland-Asia Environmental Partnership will build on a multilateral relationship between the Far East and Mid-Atlantic on April 13 during MD-AEP's Clean Water Summit at Baltimore's Center Club. Chesapeake Bay stakeholders and water management experts will assemble to prepare a Maryland delegation for the Singapore International Water Week conference this July.

As MD-AEP head Peter Gourlay explains, "The genesis goes back three years to our Asia Water Management Forum at the Center Club in 2008, where we invited Singapore's National Water Agency chief executive to give the keynote speech." That was a major draw for experts and officials from around the Mid-Atlantic. The 2011 Clean Water Summit will use the Chesapeake Bay as a backdrop for exploration of water-related issues, since it is a symbol of health for the tourism industry and a source of drinking water for 16 million people. Real estate, fisheries, port management, and energy will all be discussed during the summit.

Gourlay adds that subjects that may seem tangential to water management issues are a critical part of the forum: "We're breaking down this Clean Water Summit to: food safety; the water-energy nexus, which involves efficient water usage and efficient energy use in pumping water to different locations; potential for sustainable agriculture and poultry cleanup in Maryland," and other areas where attendees can share concerns and best practices.

"Very often you'll hear that we get a very bad grade in terms of the health of the Chesapeake Bay, but in fact it's probably more scrutinized than any other water body on earth because Washington sits right on top of it." Asian countries and companies are interested in how Mid-Atlantic governments balance enforcement and economic growth, in Gourlay's experience.

The Clean Water Summit will feature participants and speakers from the Chesapeake Bay Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maryland Bureau of the Environment, the World Bank, and even Coca-Cola, whose management views water as a sustainability and commodity pricing concern.

"I think we can turn water practices into an advantage from a tourism standpoint and also science and technology solutions being implemented in the Bay." Gourlay says.

Source: Peter Gourlay, President, Maryland-Asia Environmental Partnership
Writer: Sam Hopkins
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