Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Harvard praises city's arts TIF innovation

Supporting cultural development in Portland’s arts district using property tax revenues seemed like a good idea already, but it never hurts to gain some reassurance from the likes of Harvard University.

The Ivy League school's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government recently recognized Portland’s first-in-the-nation Creative Economy Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district as part of a program designed to share creative initiatives from around the country with other government agencies.

Established in 2008, the TIF district sets aside a portion of property tax revenues from the downtown zone between Longfellow Square and City Hall to be dedicated to arts and culture in Portland, allowing the city to finance the arts with the future tax revenues that the enhanced Arts District will generate. Developers must come up with $18 for every TIF dollar.

“With millions of dollars in renovations, the creation of Live/Work Portland, and the continued growth of entertainment venues, restaurants, and galleries within the Arts District, it’s pretty clear that the policies we created to support the city’s creative economy are bright ideas,” stated City Councilor David Marshall, an artist and Creative Portland Board Member who originated the concept of the Creative Economy TIF district.

The initiative was created by the City Council last year along with Creative Portland, a "creative economy" non-profit group charged with promoting and investing in Portland's creative industries.

In its first year, the TIF district program has helped restore multiple historic properties within the Arts District including the Baxter Library as well as the renovations at 645 Congress Street.

Marshall had to appeal to the Maine legislature to enact a change in state law that allows a TIF district to be established for the purpose of arts and cultural advancement — a first of a kind program according to Marshall.

“I think we're the first city to enact a TIF zone for the purposes of investing in arts and culture, and we are the only state that allows it at this point,” he said. “Now any municipality in Maine can now take advantage of this mechanism to fund arts and culture."

Creative Portland said Portland has long been identified as a community that is attractive to creative enterprises such as architectural firms, marketing firms, specialty products designers and manufactures, engineers and graphic designers, with nearly $30 million generated annually by arts and cultural organizations in the city.
The TIF District has also provided funding to support Creative Portland and its merger with the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance.

Marshall said he came up with the idea for extending the use of TIF to the creative economy during his campaign for city council in 2006.

“After researching the use of TIF in the city's recent history, I found that most TIF revenues were invested in development deals or to construct parking garages. I started to see TIF as a good means of investing in arts and culture since the purpose of TIF is to invest in projects for the public good,” he said. Eventually, he said, it gained bipartisan support.

“Democrats saw it as investing in arts and culture, Republicans saw it as economic development,” he said.

The program was passed by the Portland City Council in Nov 2008, who established the creative economy TIF district for 10 years. “Each year the council has to vote on all TIFs, and each year has the option to fund the TIF,” said Marshall.

“The city's commitment to the arts district and creative economy in the city has really led to some substantial investment in the Arts District,” he said.

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