Cultural mecca: Why not?

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Portales MainStreet officials say an arts and culture district in downtown Portales could provide a key ingredient for revitalization — downtown activity in the evening.

In 2007 the New Mexico Legislature adopted municipal-enabling legislation that allows for the creation of arts and cultural districts recognized by the state. The idea is to support arts- and cultural-based development by giving communities, with designated districts, the ability to access the Local Economic Development Tax to support creation and development, according to information presented recently by MainStreet officials at Portales City Council meetings.

Direct benefits to business development with an arts and culture district can include tax credits for rehabilitation of historic structures, incentives to create living and working space for artists and other financial assistance programs.

“It’s going to be nice for a couple of reasons,” MainStreet President Danny Woodward said. “It will provide economic development for our community. It will provide quality of life for our community.”

Woodward says creation of an arts and culture district would play right into the theme the group is pushing — “Alive After Five.”

“This downtown area is a very vital part of our community from eight to five, then it’s like a switch gets flipped,” Woodward said.

He envisions evening choices. As an example, he hopes someday a couple living in an apartment at the Portales Inn location can stroll through downtown to a restaurant and after dinner be able to browse an art gallery or view an exhibit at public art space at the historic Yam theater on Main Street. Afterwards they could decide if they went to see a community theater performance or listen to live music.

He sees traffic on the sidewalks sprinkled with a mixture of locals and people who’ve come from around the region for dinner and a night of entertainment.

Greg Erf, a professor of fine art at Eastern New Mexico University and a MainStreet board member who chairs the Yam renovation project, says he looks at vacant buildings downtown and thinks about how they could be used to give the downtown more character.

“It could be, with the arts and culture district, it would make it more attractive to do something with those structures,” Erf said.

MainStreet officials got a push toward the goal of creating the district earlier this fall when they won a poster contest at the quarterly meeting of MainStreet communities held in Silver City. In the contest they had to provide an aerial map of a proposed district and list resources, strengths and weaknesses.

The state has funded a pilot project to kick off the arts and culture district effort. Two communities, one over 50,000 and one under 50,000, will share $150,000 in money for consulting fees to set up the districts.

Erf says the group has been working hard on their application to the program, which is due Wednesday. A winner will be announced early next year.

“I think it’s a good shot,” Erf said. “The big plus is we’re one of the most active MainStreet programs in the state. We get a lot accomplished.”

Erf says the Portales organization’s reputation should help. He said he expects the competition to include four or five communities in the smaller division.

Erf and Woodward say the timing is excellent, with construction on the Yam project to begin next year. They say having an arts and culture district could open the door to grant opportunities both public and private that could greatly complement the Yam.

“If we get lucky it’ll change our direction a little bit, but it will give us another opportunity to help our town,” Erf said.