Thursday, October 02, 2008

PRESS HERALD

Report urges city to invest in the arts

A committee says creating an agency to attract innovative businesses will pay off for Portland.

By KELLEY BOUCHARD Staff Writer October 2, 2008

A steering committee wants the Portland City Council to start and help fund an agency that would promote creative enterprises and innovative investment in Maine's largest city, according to a report to be released today.

The Creative Economy Steering Committee recommends that the council establish a nonprofit corporation to attract more artists, designers, engineers and other creative people to Portland.

The Creative Portland Corp. would be the driving force in a public-private partnership that would build on the more than $30 million generated by arts and cultural organizations in the city each year.

The 19-page report also recommends that the council establish a Creative Economy Tax-Increment Financing District, where a portion of new property taxes could be used to finance the corporation and its programs.

"This proposal recognizes that Portland's economic success is very closely tied to its quality of life and its culture," said Councilor James Cohen, who convened the city's Creative Economy Summit in May 2006, when he was mayor.

The tax district would mirror the city's Arts District, which runs along Congress Street, between State and Pearl streets. Money generated by the tax district could be used to promote creative enterprises throughout the city, Cohen said.

The steering committee recommends that the council spend $100,000 annually to run the corporation. Additional financing would be sought from private donors, Cohen said.

The steering committee, which Cohen appointed and headed, will release the report at 1 p.m. today at the Portland Stage Company, 25 Forest Ave. It will be posted on the city's Web site at www.portlandmaine.gov/creativeconomy.

The council will hold a workshop on the report at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall. Cohen said he hopes the council will act on the steering committee's recommendations this fall.

The 17-member steering committee represented a variety of creative enterprises in Portland, including cultural organizations, specialty manufacturers, architectural firms, marketing companies, colleges and the media.

Over two years and many meetings, the committee identified a variety of strategies to help expand the city's creative economy, which is fueled by people whose skills allow them to live where they choose.

The Creative Portland Corp. would be a subsidiary of city government, Cohen said. It would be staffed by an executive administrator and an assistant and overseen by a 17-member governing board appointed by the council.

The corporation would be responsible for marketing Portland's creative economy and helping to develop innovative businesses through a low-interest loan fund, said Nicole Clegg, city spokeswoman.

The corporation also would be charged with promoting year-round economic vitality in the city by developing new cultural events, exploring the creation of a center for the arts and expanding the Arts District.

"These forward thinking policies will strengthen Portland as an arts and cultural destination," said Councilor David Marshall, an artist who was vice chairman of the steering committee.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at kbouchard@pressherald.com

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