After encountering a stagnant economy, four leadership changes in 15 years and slower than anticipated development to transform a stretch of U.S. 1 into a thriving arts locale, Gateway Arts District leaders are trying to rekindle enthusiasm for a project they say could become a regional magnet.
Gateway Community Development Corp. leaders shared their low-cost plans to continue the project’s momentum with attention-getting facades and landscape improvements during a meeting March 6 with Prince George’s County and federal leaders and community members.
The Arts District of Brentwood, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier and North Brentwood was established in 1996, and the three-mile area along U.S. 1 was designated an Arts and Entertainment District in 2001 by the governor, providing tax breaks for arts-related businesses or property improvements.
Since its formation, the district has led to an 44-unit artist live/work studio in Mount Rainier, 140 businesses operating within a two-block radius and an increase of 250 artists living in the area since 2001, according to Gateway officials.
While Hyattsville has been able to attract retailers to its revitalized space, Brentwood, Mount Rainier and North Brentwood have put more of an emphasis on building up their arts scene, said Michael Gumpert, Gateway CDC’s executive director since February 2011.
“It’s a different market in Hyattsville, as they can demand more rent, they’re closer to College Park and the market conditions were right,” Gumpert said. “The idea was in the first 10 years to put in the anchor projects and create an arts scene and in the next 10 years to market what we have here to increase desirability and get the private market to come in and start investing.”
Gumpert said having decorative storefronts that could easily be distinguished could help attract attention to the district, especially if a concentration of four to five storefronts participated. Gumpert showed slides of a storefront decorated with bikes and a music store with a speaker-like facade.
“People will say, ‘Oh, I live past that crazy arts building.’ It would create a magical feel to it like Disney World,” Gumpert said. “These structures will be an attraction all to themselves that will further brand and compliment the arts district.”
Under the Gateway Conservatory program, vacant land in highly trafficked areas would be purchased to set up four ornamental gardens — two in Mount Rainier and one each in Brentwood and North Brentwood —— that would be more welcoming for commuters who may have a negative perception of the area, Gumpert said.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said he wants to identify additional partners for the program, which could include extending the Arts District into Washington, D.C., to draw District residents to Prince George’s County.
“Clearly the investment we’ve made has paid off,” Baker said. “This area has tremendous potential and in the future, it will bring in the young, middle-class families. This is a growth area for the state.”
Under Maryland’s congressional redistricting plan, Rep. Christopher Van Hollen’s District 8 will no longer include the Gateway communities, but he said he is still committed to assisting the effort, providing information about federal grant funding.
“They may be able to take Prince George’s out of District 8, but you can’t take Van Hollen out of Prince George’s County,” the Democrat from Kensington said. “I hope that we continue to brand this area as the place to live and work if you’re an artist and the place to stay and spend your money if you care about the arts.”
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Dist. 4) of Fort Washington said, if successful in her re-election bid, she will hold nonprofit forums to aid the CDC partners in devising grant application strategies and would write letters of support to help strengthen arts district applications.
Mike Franklin, owner of Hyattsville restaurant and brewery Franklin’s, which county officials hailed as helping to spark the arts district revitalization since its arrival in 2002, said he is optimistic.
“This area has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go to make this a premier attraction,” Franklin said. “I’d like to see us move in the direction where we can brand this district as a unique destination spot.”