The Palm Coast City Council is moving toward establishing an arts district in Town Center, bringing together key arts and culture organizations through an arts council and dedicating revenue from the Town Center redevelopment zone to match private grants, spur artistic and cultural activity in the district and further encourage economic development.
The arts district has been a council priority for the last two years. But it was only today that City Parks Director Lauren Johnston presented the plan in its most concrete form yet, what was the first of a three-pronged plan that the council will consider and likely approve over the next few weeks. The first prong focused on the district’s broadest outlines–literally (that is, geographically) and philosophically.
The district would take its place alongside the already-established Innovation District and the coming MedNex initiative–the University of North Florida’s local expansion, also in Town Center.
“The Palm Coast Arts District is a place for social gathering and artistic expression,” the project’s vision statement reads. “It will provide va destination for locals and tourists alike and will continue to revitalize the Innovation District in Town Center. The vibrant and humming culture will be fueled by the collaboration of artists with a global outlook, while integrating artistic, residential, cultural and commercial life. Our Arts District will be a hub of activity that attracts a plethora of businesses. It will offer space for the local community to display beauty and artistry of all kinds, whether it be through a perfectly crafted microbrew, a thought-provoking sculpture, or the clean lines of a 1957 Jaguar.”
“We hope that this vision embraces all generations and encompasses that culture” the city is hoping to that we’re hoping to seed, with art galleries, sculpture gardens, the visual arts, live music and the performance arts the driving forces behind the district.
The first legal step for such a district is to draw actual, legal boundaries. That was today’s aim. The boundaries are to be approved by the council at next week’s meeting. Next the council will hear about the council that would operate much like the Tourist Development Council, or the Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs Advisory Council, on which it is partly modeled.
“United We Arts is this council that will be put together in an effort to identify a strategic approach both on a capital level as well as an event level,” Mayor Milissa Holland said, “and see how we cross-promote and cross-market other community arts and organizations in the community, and how we support each other.”
The council’s budgetary authority has yet to be worked through, though that will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting. Holland said that up to 10 percent of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s revenue could be dedicated to the arts district.
Town Center is a so-called CRA, a sort of economic opportunity or redevelopment zone where most tax revenue generated within the zone stays in it. The CRA generated just over $2 million in tax revenue last year. If it weren’t a CRA, $1.3 million of it would have gone to the county. (School tax revenue is not held within the CRA. See a primer on the Town Center CRA here). If 10 percent were drawn from total revenue, the arts district could be looking at an annual $200,000 infusion. If the revenue was drawn only from Palm Coast’s portion of revenue, it would still be close to $80,000–almost quadruple the money the council is set to approve for its annual cultural arts grants. Those grants, ranging between $2,000 and $3,000, are awarded to a dozen local arts and cultural organizations.
The CRA budget is run separately from that of the city, with the city council sitting as a CRA board when dealing with the CRA budget. Next year’s CRA budget calls for spending $20,000 to $60,000 on the arts district.
“What’s exciting is to hear the conversation with the different arts groups about how they’re excited to participate and how they’ve all come together in this moment,” Holland said. Previously, the Auditorium and the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, both with performing arts venues, had kept each other at arms’ length, but no longer. Amelia Fulmer, the relatively new auditorium director, and Nancy Crouch, the executive director of the arts foundation, meet regularly, Holland said. One of the long-term goals of the arts district is an arts facility that various arts groups could use jointly.
The district boundaries are within the existing innovation district, and include the Flagler Auditorium, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation and the city’s Central Park, which has been a hub of cultural activities and festivals.
“This was an initiative that began with thought of how do we bring together and collaborate all the different arts groups in the community,” Holland said, “meaning [City] Repertory Theatre, the Art League, the Auditorium, the Arts Foundation. We’ve had interest [from] the Flagler Playhouse to join in the art district as well.” The Playhouse was born in Palm Coast but migrated to Bunnell over a decade ago. “We have some outliers that want to participate as well, to be collaborative, to not only host different cultural art opportunities in our arts district, like we do Food Truck Tuesday, but have art festivals, those sorts of things.” With the cooprration between arts groups, “for the first time we’re seeing a lot more of that,” Holland continued. “Due to limited funding sources, everyone’s come together, but this will be the first step of many for engaging and offering cultural art opportunities right in our downtown, what Town Center was always meant to be, a gathering sport for our community.”