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Focusing Arts Growth


The Gazette

June 16, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    One square mile’s worth of focused planning can do a lot for a community’s economic, social and cultural development, and it’s time Cedar Rapids got on board with a state program that helps make that happen. Likewise, for Amana, North Liberty and other Technology Corridor communities.

    Since enactment of the state law that created the opportunity two years ago, 21 cultural and entertainment districts have been designated; Iowa City has two, Marion has one.

    The designation is a catalyst for communities to preserve and develop a distinct, a diverse and compact area where cultural facilities serve as an anchor. Imagine what a marketing tool the Cultural Corridor Alliance here would have if such districts existed in many communities and could be linked to attract visitors and new business, encourage existing businesses to grow and give residents more reasons to shop and play in those places.

    Where to start in Cedar Rapids? There’s the Downtown District, New Bohemia, Czech Village, the riverfront and so on. Districts can only encompass 1 square mile, so the possibilities for districts are many.

    So are the benefits. When communities act on their plans for a cultural and entertainment district, they can boost tourism and the economic bloom from that for businesses within the district and in the surrounding area. New businesses, bringing jobs, are attracted, as are artisans and residents. Properties are renovated or reinvented, property values go up and the tax base expands. And if the Legislature comes through with tax credits it considered but failed to approve last session, owners of historic properties can get help sprucing things up.

    The deadline to apply for consideration this year to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs is Sept. 1. Cedar Rapids already has done much of the hard work involved in identifying areas that could become designated districts, in developing plans for those areas and identifying sources of support. All that’s needed is to pull that information together in an application and get official support from the city or county.

    Another good reason for Cedar Rapids and other communities in the Corridor to get applications ready is to give the Department of Cultural Affairs ammunition when it lobbies the Legislature to resurrect the proposal to expand historic tax credits. When the Legislature created the program two years ago, it provided for $40 million in such tax credits. The following year, it set a five-year limit on how far out those funds could be encumbered, but it has failed to add any more of the credits for cultural districts. Anita Walker, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, said half of the $40 million is already spoken for.

    ‘‘But cultural districts should get in the queue with an application for the remaining funds,’’ she said. ‘‘Who knows. We may get some more next year, and those applications are a good way to demonstrate interest to our legislators.’’

    And a good way to focus the cultural efforts of a community.