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The Nose

Art Scrape

Posted 12/5/2001

Mayor Martin O'Malley briefly took up a guitar on stage, but he was only goofing. After all, he had on a mayoral power suit, not the muscle shirts he dons when in Celtic-rocker mode. The arts may have brought him to the Heritage Cinema House Nov. 30, but it was Baltimore arts business, not a chance to warble Hibernian ballads.

The North Avenue museum/movie house was the setting for a press conference to announce that City Hall had tapped the multiblock section of midtown surrounding Penn Station to be the city's first officially designated arts and entertainment district. Designed (under recent state legislation) to foster arts-related development, A&E district status will bring a number of tax benefits to six lucky neighborhoods across Maryland; the Penn Station district beat out six other Baltimore communities vying to be the city's nominee in the statewide competition (Mobtown Beat, Nov. 21).

Of course, the Penn Station deal isn't signed and sealed just yet; the six statewide winners will be named in a couple of months by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. But the way folks were happily carrying on at the Heritage last week, there was an unspoken sense that this was a mere formality. Onstage, the mayor (having shed his guitar) said the neighborhood has so much going for it that it's "ready to pop." Among the area's artistic strengths--the Heritage, the Charles Theatre, the Everyman Theatre, and such--he touted its easy accessibility, mentioning in the same breath the new Greyhound bus depot City Hall is angling to get built on a lot behind the rail station.

The Nose found the citation particularly interesting, seeing how many of the people and businesses working to bring the A&E designation to midtown are working just as hard to keep the big new Greyhound station out, claiming the attendant noise, traffic, and bus exhaust are incompatible with an artistic renaissance. Was O'Malley giving the neighborhood a slap on the back with one hand and knife in the back with the other?

Hizzoner doesn't see it that way, telling the Nose (during a brief bit of post-press-conference face time) that opposition to the bus station is based on false precepts that it will increase crime and grime. The city isn't going to let that happen, especially in the new arts district, O'Malley pledged, adding that while the bus station isn't a done deal yet, the plan is "moving forward." Asked if he planned to meet with some of the anti-Greyhound forces, he nonchalantly replied, "I probably will. I'm out all the time. I don't live in a monastery."

Artist David Crandall, who helped author the Penn Station arts-district proposal and was on hand to hear the mayor give his 'hood the nod, said he was "delighted and surprised" with the decision. He took on a considerably darker tone when the bus station came up. "We're going to hold [O'Malley's] feet to the fire," Crandall said. "We don't want it." Noticeably absent from the art party, we noted, was Joy Martin, owner of one of the neighborhood's anchors, the Club Charles. We called the ever-loquacious Martin, figuring she'd have something to say on this good mayor/bad mayor question, and we were right.

"They threw a bone at us in making us the arts-and-entertainment area," she fumed in a voice mail left at Nose HQ. "It's totally wack, because they're also going to drop that Greyhound station on us. If they were really pro-business, they would know that every business in this area doesn't want that station and is completely disgusted with the mayor."

Doesn't sound like such a pretty picture shaping up in our fledgling arts district. No doubt some, uh, entertaining days lie ahead.

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