Just when you think you’re on the same page with someone, you find out you aren’t even on the same chapter. Such was my case with the city’s approval of a downtown arts district, followed by the recent signing of a state bill relating to development of a local museum and cultural district.

I assumed they were hand in glove with one another, the legislation helping to formalize the downtown arts district and enable funding for it. Boy, was I on the wrong page.

One deals with marketing the downtown district as an arts destination. The other deals with the possible formation of a museum and cultural district in the city’s disaster zone, designated after the 2011 tornado. The former would benefit from the latter but not for some time.

I accidently stumbled upon these revelations when I posed some questions about it to Clifford Wert, president and chief financial officer of Connect2Culture, the city’s arts advocacy organization.

It’s a rather complicated issue, Wert explained. He unraveled my confusion by separating the two issues. It goes like this.

In envisioning sessions for the city’s Vision 2020 blueprint for community development, a subcommittee on arts and entertainment, which included representatives of C2C, recommended that the city support changes to a state statute relating to development of museum and cultural districts.

The statute, the Missouri Museum and Cultural District Act, allows property owners to form such a district in a natural disaster area that has been Presidentially declared and city adopted.

For Joplin, that district encompasses an area that runs roughly from Range Line to the western city limits and from 32nd Street north to B Street.

When the bill was originally passed in 1998, it required formation of museum and cultural districts within five years of natural disasters.

The city’s inability to meet that five-year deadline because it was still redeveloping was behind the Vision 2020 subcommittee’s suggestion that the city seek changes to the state statute.

In January, C2C initiated an effort with the city to pursue a statute change that would give cities 15 years, rather than five years, to develop museum and cultural districts after natural disasters.

Following the C2C recommendation, the city began working with area legislators on drafting an amendment to the act. Senate Bill 397, the act’s amendment sponsored by Sen. Bill White and handled in the House by Rep. Lane Roberts, gained overwhelming legislative approval. It was signed into law by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe during a recent ceremony at Spiva Center for the Arts.

Now, property owners in the disaster zone have until 2026 to form a museum and cultural district. It will require a petition to the Jasper County Circuit Court to form the district and designate a board of trustees for it.

Wert explained that the board could choose from three options for funding of the district. A sales tax of up to 1% could be levied for collection by retail property owners choosing to promote arts and culture through participation in the district. A second option would be attachment of a surcharge of up to $1 on admissions to arts and cultural events. There could also be a combination of those two options.

The money could be used for planning, designing and constructing new museums or cultural assets or maintaining and operating present ones. Such entities as the Joplin Museum Complex, Spiva Center for the Arts or the Joplin Public Library could be among those benefitting.

In May, while legislative wrangling related to the museum and cultural district was underway, the city was approached by Linda Teeter, a local arts leader and downtown gallery owner, about designating a downtown arts district. The city approved a resolution designating her suggested 56-block district that runs from B Street south to 12th Street and from Wall Avenue east to Pennsylvania Avenue. The resolution designated the area for marketing purposes only. It would not entail city funding or oversight.

C2C supported Teeter’s proposal but was not involved in promoting it to the city. The downtown district would fall within the boundaries of the tentative museum and cultural district, so it could potentially benefit through funding or promotion.

Teeter said her initiative is all about embracing Joplin’s reputation as an art community to make it a tourist destination, specifically promoting the downtown area. She envisions artists’ housing with studios, art-related businesses, boutiques, maybe even a boutique hotel, all in the downtown district.

For now, she’s seeking artists to submit possible logos for district signage, and she’s considering locations for signs, funded through private donations.

Neither of the two districts will be quick in the coming. The downtown district is only in its formative stages, and the museum and cultural district has until 2026 to come to fruition. But the districts foretell a thriving future for arts and culture in our community.

Contact Marta Churchwell with column ideas and comments at mpchurchwell04@yahoo.com.

Marta is an arts columnist for The Joplin Globe.

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