GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 14, 2012

Council OKs cultural district bid

By Steven Fletcher Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — Gloucester is pursuing what would be its second cultural district — this time for the city’s downtown.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a plan for downtown cultural district to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which grants designations for such districts around the state. City councilors said the district brings all downtown cultural institutions from Maritime Gloucester to the Cape Ann museum under one umbrella.

Earlier this year, the state designated Gloucester’s Rocky Neck and downtown Rockport among the state’s first five recognized cultural districts, then approved a similar designation for an Essex River Cultural District while bringing the total statewide to 12.

While the cultural districts do not come with any assured marketing or other dollars attached, the state designation would mean the downtown district would also be added to the state Cultural Council’s website, identifying areas rich in culture for visitors and state residents alike. Officials are also hopeful that the designation can provide documentation for pursuing federal arts-related grants or other funding.

“We are so pleased,” said Judith Hoglander, chairwoman of the city’s Committee for the Arts and head of the committee that pushed for the Downtown Cultural District.

Hoglander said the city’s downtown has a vibrant mix of cultural venues, from waterfront businesses to the Sawyer Free Library. She said she started working on a downtown district while the cultural district initiative was still in debate in the state Legislature.

“I was fascinated by the possibility of a cultural district and how it could help Gloucester,” Hoglander said. “(Downtown) has it all and it’s very unique. We felt it would be ideal for a cultural district.”

Bringing it together wasn’t easy, Hoglander said. While Rocky Neck, she conceded, is a clearly defined area for a cultural district, downtown isn’t. The proposed district stretches roughly from Middle Street down to Harbor loop and covers the Harborwalk, City Hall, Maritime Gloucester, Cape Ann Museum and other venues.

The state’s Cultural District Initiative came out of an economic stimulus bill passed by the state Legislature in 2010. The initiative was designed to help communities attract artists and cultural enterprises, encourage business and job growth, expand tourism, preserve and reuse historic buildings, enhance property values, and foster local cultural development.

Tuesday night, the City Council held a public hearing on the cultural district. Councilors said no one spoke against the proposal.

“It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the city,” said City Councilor Joe Ciolino.

Ciolino said the district pulls a lot of downtown cultural venues together under one umbrella. The designation, he said, would let those establishments work together to promote the area and apply for funding to improve it. Down the road, grant funding for the cultural district, he said, could even be used in the city’s effort to repair City Hall.

He said he’s hoping that the cultural district designation will get the groups working on events during the summer for both residents and tourists.

City Councilor Melissa Cox, whose ward holds the proposed Downtown Cultural District, said she hopes it can someday provide for improvements as basic as sidewalks in the area.

What the designation does do, Cox said, is help the downtown move forward together.

“When you can find a way to bring everyone together under one roof you can figure out the next step,” said Cox.

Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or sfletcher@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.