Bel Air Seeks To Renew Arts & Leisure District Standing

BEL AIR, MD – The city of Bel Air has taken a step closer to redesigning its historic core as the Maryland Arts & Entertainment District.

The Bel Air Board of Town Commissioners passed a resolution Monday evening approving the renaming of nearly 100 acres of downtown as an arts and entertainment district.

Bel Air was first designated as an arts and entertainment district in 2011, according to Trish Heidenreich, director of economic development at Bel Air. This status would expire this year, unless the city requests a renaming.

The label allows state tax incentives for activities, artists and businesses in the district, she said.

April 1 is the deadline for the city to apply for a redesign by the Maryland State Arts Council, which has coordinated the program since 2001 under the umbrella of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Since then, the council has appointed nearly 30 Arts and entertainment districts around the state, including Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

“Over the past 10 years there has been an increase in art-related investments, activities and events in the city, attracting more shoppers and diners to our restaurants and retail stores,” Heidenreich said at a town hall meeting on Monday evening. Bel Air’s Entertainment District was put to the vote.

“In addition to boosting trade, the opportunities to improve our commercial and residential property portfolio have increased by providing economic incentives for affordable housing to artists and art studio workshops who are renovating unused properties and creating jobs in the community,” added Heidenreich added.

“It’s a very positive label,” she said, noting that it was “quite an important tool for attracting investment into the city.”

“Significant growth” in the arts over the past 10 years

Two people announced during the public hearing that the Arts & Entertainment District has been a boon to the city of Bel Air.

“In the past 10 years since Bel Air was named the Arts & Entertainment District, we’ve just seen significant growth in the variety of arts and cultural events in the city, both in the number of local artists selling their work here and in beautiful public works of art that have been installed, “said Kristien Foss, chairman of the Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission.

Photo by Angela Robertson / City of Bel Air.

“All of this really adds to our city and makes it a really vibrant place to live,” said Foss. “It attracts both our visitors and our new residents … It celebrates our history.”

To qualify as an arts and entertainment district, a municipality or district government must apply for and present an area that will serve as a center for cultural attractions and arts programs.

In Bel Air, the borough comprises 99 acres, including lots along MD 22, Main Street, and US 1st. (See the map below.)

“I think more and more art is popping up in Bel Air every day and year, and that is what makes it so colorful and fun,” Mayor Amy Chmielewski said during the public hearing that was held due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chmielewski said, “I look forward to seeing more murals and more art.”

A mural in honor of the first responders was painted on the Bel Air Armory Marketplace side in 2018. Photo by Elizabeth Janney / Patch.

After she spoke, the city commissioners unanimously passed that Decision to redesign Bel Air’s arts and entertainment district.

If approved, the nomination would take 10 years. During that time, the city would provide tax credits for eligible art-related real estate and activities in the district.

Here it is Map of the Bel Air Arts & Entertainment District::

Map courtesy of Bel Air City.

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