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Public, Small Businesses Weigh in on GCAC’s Ticket Tax

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The Greater Columbus Arts Council’s (GCAC) proposed ticket fee has a lot of people asking, among other things, “Why is Nationwide Arena involved at all?”

The fee, a 7 percent surcharge on all event admissions and memberships (with the exception of high school and college sporting events), is expected to generate $14 million annually. The bulk of that would go to GCAC to fund and enable the growth of the arts and cultural organizations that are their beneficiaries. The remaining 30 percent, roughly $4 million, would go toward capital improvements at Nationwide Arena, an 18-year-old facility that has never quite obtained the public support it’s needed to stay up-to-date.

That involvement of Nationwide Arena is what many protested at GCAC’s public forum on Thursday, August 23. Members of the community, a number of them representing small-scale arts and cultural venues in Columbus, also expressed concern about the impact such a fee will have, both on smaller businesses that will pay into this funding pool and receive nothing back, and on smaller arts and cultural organizations that operate on tiny budgets to host cheap events.

If the forum indicated anything, it’s that a lot of gray area and confusion still exists around the ticket fee, how it would be applied practically, and what the short- and long-term impacts would be. Below is a compilation of the most common questions and concerns raised on Thursday.

Why is Nationwide involved at all?

“The taxpayers have consistently voted down funding of the arena, but somehow, somehow, we don’t know the answer — I don’t know if [Nationwide Arena] came to [GCAC] and said, ‘Here’s a way for GCAC to get more tax dollars,’ but that is wrong,” said Bret Adams, with the Bluestone. “We should not be, as taxpayers, funding an arena that has been publicly rejected numerous, numerous times.”

Another forum attendee posed the question, following it up with the suggestion that the fee be applied to events at Nationwide and other venues without any of the revenue going back to the arena.

Don Brown, executive director of the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority (FCCFA), the owner and operator of Nationwide Arena, was also present at the forum. He said the arena’s benefit from the ticket tax makes sense, because along with the Schottenstein Center and the Ohio Stadium it’ll help generate nearly half of all the revenue (49 percent), while only getting back 30 percent.

This sparked some dissent from smaller business owners present at the discussion, including Eric Brembeck, owner of Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse and Grandview Theatre & Drafthouse. He said the ticket tax would demand between $18,000 and $20,000 annually from Studio 35, and “I’m going to get no benefit back. Most profitable businesses aren’t getting direct money back.” He then suggested placing the ticket tax on events hosted by organizations that will directly benefit from GCAC grants.

How would Nationwide Arena contribute to the ticket tax fund when they don’t gather ticket revenue — whoever rents the facility does?

In 2012, the FCCFA, the City of Columbus, Franklin County, Nationwide, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Ohio State University made a deal that would transition the arena from private to public ownership. In that deal, the Columbus Blue Jackets were given free rent of the arena. The facility also doesn’t handle its own ticket sales; that’s usually taken care of through a third-party vendor like Ticketmaster. Where is Nationwide Arena’s portion of the revenue coming from?

What all counts as an event?

The language in GCAC’s information pamphlets on the ticket tax says the fee would be applied to any concert, performance, movie, and event admission to any for-profit or nonprofit even or organization in the City of Columbus.

Many wanted to know what that means for ticketed events like church basement charity concerts, yoga classes, and educational workshops.

Tom Katzenmeyer, President and CEO of GCAC, agreed that the term “event” was something they needed to clarify before the proposal goes before city council.

Why should small businesses who won’t benefit at all incur this fee at the benefit of larger organizations?

“There is significant precedent in local shows outside of major venues for fee increases to ticket prices depressing turnout as the local shows have audiences that are tremendously price sensitive,” said local comedian Erik Tait in an online comment. “Will GCAC commit to carve out exemptions for smaller venues and artists that are developing the vibrant scene that you want to support?”

This has been another common piece of feedback on the ticket tax — why not make exceptions for smaller businesses that may actually suffer from a ticket tax?

Bobby Miller, the booker for Ace of Cups, said a 7 percent fee would take nearly half of the 15 percent Ace of Cups makes on a ticket.

David Fricke, of Cafe Bourbon Street, said imposing the fee on the small door price he charges would leave him with three options: give the bands a percentage of bar sales, which means a lot less money; customers could pay an extra $0.35 on the $5 admission, creating logistical chaos when making change; or have the bands pay it. “I can’t imagine any of those possibilities doing anything good for artists on that level,” he said. “I think this tax would be really hurtful to the music community in the city.”

What’s the logic behind forgoing the sin tax in favor of the ticket tax?

During GCAC’s initial presentation at the forum, Goldstein said the organization ruled out 12 other funding mechanisms before landing on a ticket tax. One of those discarded was the sin tax — a surcharge on cigarettes, alcohol, and soda. Goldstein said that, over time, revenue from the sin tax would decline as fewer people indulged, meanwhile arguing that taxing event tickets would not depress turnout.

“You’ve been using the logic of the sin tax in Cleveland .. you know, it’s depressed the market by adding this sin tax,” said Miller. “If you’re using that logic, how can you not apply that to what we’re doing. If you tax it, it’s going to depress it. It works across the board, it’s not just cigarette smokers.”

To watch the forum discussion, visit GCAC’s Facebook page. Another forum will be hosted and livestreamed on Tuesday, August 28.

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