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|Official explains how cultural districts work|
Several communities that were designated cultural districts last year by the lieutenant governor's office have already reported benefits as a result of the designation.
That's according to Gay Hamilton with Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu's office. She visited with West Monroe officials and merchants late last week about the new cultural district designations in the Twin Cities.
Monroe's and West Monroe's downtowns are two of 10 new cultural districts now certified by the state. The two new cultural districts will provide a sales tax exemption for original art sold in the districts. The tax exemptions became effective March 1.
Currently there are 39 cultural districts throughout Louisiana. The program first started last year.
"We're getting a few indicators now that people are making sales, but it will take us a couple of years before we get any true accountable information about what is going on in terms of money," Hamilton said.
"Right now it is having a good impact because the designation itself is a reason for local people to get excited about doing stuff. They are planning signature events to kind of launch their cultural districts and promote it to their community. They are doing more art, cultural related activities already. It's already making an impact in communities."
Hamilton said people in the Monroe and West Monroe area are excited over the possibilities the cultural district designation will bring to the area.
She met with a number of stakeholders late last week for a luncheon.
"I'm doing a preliminary get-together with the stakeholders to inform them about some of the aspects of the program," Hamilton said. "We want to tell them about some of the goals of our project and get them information about what's going on so we can develop a good network of communication and implementation."
Each community will have "goals and visions" that local leaders have for their area, she said.
There are two primary incentives associated with the cultural district program. The first incentive allows for any properties to be eligible for the existing state historic tax credits.
"People who renovate buildings can earn up to 25 percent on what they spend toward credit on their income tax," Hamilton said. "Right now there's some empty store fronts, so one of our goals is to encourage businesses to move into the cultural districts."
The program also allows for the sale of original works of art within the boundaries of the cultural district to be exempt from local and state sales taxes.
"That's why local governments are the applicants because there is the potential to realize a slightly reduced income," Hamilton explained. "But, we believe that any loss of revenue due to the sales tax exemption would be offset by other commerce that's occurring that is taxable.
"So, if you attract people to come to your cultural district to buy art, they will be buying other things that are not exempt from sales tax. They'll be spending money on gas, food and maybe even staying overnight. We think this will act as an economic engine."
Another benefit would be the increase in opportunities for artistic production, Hamilton said.
Cultural districts are certified by the state indefinitely, Hamilton said. However, local governments can opt out of the program at any time.
"If a city decides it doesn't want to do this anymore they can opt out, or they can change their boundaries," Hamilton continued. "If they want to make it bigger or smaller, they can do that. Any action related in a change to the cultural district takes about a year. We hope that some businesses may relocate to a cultural district to take advantage of the opportunities… So, we don't want communities to take action immediately and have someone left in the works. So at least a year's notice will be required."
The state also can revoke a cultural designation if a community is not advancing the district or reaching its goals.