Baltimore council okays tax breaks for arena concerts, but only really expensive ones

Sorry, got busy yesterday and neglected to inform you that the Baltimore city council held its vote on exempting concerts at the city’s arena from paying ticket taxes, and it approved it — but only for really big, expensive concerts:

The council voted 13-1 Monday to give preliminary approval to legislation sponsored by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young that would exempt some performances at the venue from paying the city’s 10 percent admissions and amusement tax on every ticket. The gross ticket sales for a single event would need to exceed $500,000 to qualify.

That $500,000 threshold is interesting: The arena holds 14,000, so you’d need a sellout with an average ticket price of $35 to qualify — not unreasonable for most arena shows, but also not a slam-dunk. And it would certainly create a huge incentive for arena operator SMG to lean toward booking only bigger acts that could sell out at a higher price — not to mention pricing shenanigans like offering enticements to purchase tickets at higher prices (free food voucher with every $35 ticket!) to game the system.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and her finance department think the tax rebate idea is a bad one that could cost the city as much as $1.2 million in annual revenues; proponents of the tax break argue COMPETITIVENESS RARRRGH!:

“I’m trying to get the big events,” [arena general manager Frank] Remesch said. “We’re fighting that big gorilla down the street called the Verizon Center. Give me a swinging chance against these goliaths.”

(Too bad Joe Jackson never thought of this solution, huh?)

Nobody has actually done an economic study to show whether the city would benefit from letting the arena exempt performers from the tax, but economists, pffft, amirite? Though one local economist who hasn’t studied the matter, Anirban Basu of the Baltimore-based consulting firm Sage Policy Group, did argue that the tax rebate idea was bad because it could — wait for it — prevent the city from building a new arena instead:

“The city desperately needs a new arena. … When Baltimore has been able to supply first-class facilities, there have been incredibly good outcomes. One only needs to look at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium,” Basu said. “The current arena is uninspired, and people put up with it because the acts are good.”

That’s right — Baltimore’s current arena can’t compete at drawing concert acts because it’s too old, but nobody has noticed because it’s been too successful at drawing concert acts. With logic like this, I’m not sure all the economic studies in the world are going to help.

One comment on “Baltimore council okays tax breaks for arena concerts, but only really expensive ones

  1. I’d be really interested to actually hear from concert promoters to know what they are looking for in a potential concert location, rather than just going to politicians and arena operators.