Baltimore council calls do-over on tax breaks for expensive concerts, decides to study it first after all

So remember how the Baltimore city council voted overwhelmingly on Monday to approve kicking back ticket taxes to big, expensive concerts at the city’s arena? Apparently they still needed to hold a second, final vote, and now that vote has been delayed indefinitely while everyone realizes that really, it might be a good idea to look at whether this will actually benefit the city at all:

A spokesman for [council president Bernard C. “Jack”] Young said Wednesday that the council president had heard concerns from constituents and will postpone the vote, initially scheduled for Monday, to allow time for more research and community input.

“More discussion is always good,” spokesman Lester Davis said.

With the mayor’s office opposed to the tax break plan, and the Baltimore Sun editorializing against it without more study, Young seems to have bowed to political pressure to conduct some research before moving ahead with this plan. Though given that much of the opposition to subsidizing tickets at the current arena seems to be coming from people who want to instead use the money to build a whole new arena, at much greater public expense and equally dubious public benefit, this is not necessarily a good thing.

No word yet on who will conduct the research into the council plan’s projected impact. Just please, please don’t let it be these guys.

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.

Baltimore arena operator asks for kickback of ticket taxes because being #1 in concert sales isn’t enough

SMG, the private arena management company that runs Baltimore’s Royal Farms Arena (aka 1st Mariner Arena, aka Baltimore Civic Center, aka Spicy Condiment) wants to stop paying ticket taxes on concerts it holds there. And the president of the Baltimore city council thinks, sure, why not?

In an effort to try to attract more and better acts to the city-owned arena, [city council president Bernard C. “Jack”] Young is proposing to exempt many performances at the venue from paying the city’s Admissions and Amusement tax of 10 percent on every ticket…

Young’s bill would grant tax breaks to concerts, comedy shows, dance performances and any other “artistic” work at the venue. Sporting events would still pay taxes, but the bill is written broadly enough that it could apply to WWE wrestling show, [city finance director Henry] Raymond said.

Before we all shake our heads sadly, let me say that this is probably a better idea than building a whole new arena to attract better concerts, something else that’s been proposed, since that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and this would cost the city only $1.2 million a year. And, sure, maybe SMG will use that cash to lower its concert fees, which means maybe finally Baltimoreans will get to see Rihanna — nope, she’s already playing, but Bruce Springsteen — nope, him, too, in fact, Baltimore’s arena currently sells more concert tickets than any other arena its size, but Adele, okay, they’ll finally get to see Adele without having to drive to Washington, and who can put a price on that?

Or, they’ll just pocket the money and Adele will still skip Baltimore. The city council is set to vote on the plan today.

Baltimore arena has leaky roof, might as well tear it down and build a new one

Slow news day on the stadium front, and a busy one for me as I enter the home stretch for Brooklyn Wars, but I don’t want to leave you with nothing for today. So here’s a sports blogger from Baltimore taking advantage of that city’s upcoming mayoral election to argue that Baltimore needs a new arena, because, well:

Considering the building has showcased five Garth Brooks shows, the return of Bruce Springsteen to Charm City, a major regular-season men’s college basketball game (the highly ranked Terps hosted Princeton in December), Janet Jackson, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Prince, Stevie Wonder, a UFC pay-per-view and much more in recent years, it isn’t hard to understand why some might wonder if the city really does even need a new facility.

(We do. The water damage on the ceiling tiles above me in the 200 section from where I watched the Terps down the Tigers in December reminded me that, yes, yes, we do.)

For anyone who insists that the sports stadium subsidy landscape has shifted, here we have a grown man arguing that the mayor of a major American city needs to make tearing down the local sports arena and building a new one, at uncertain cost, solely because the ceiling leaks. (Okay, he also argues that a new arena might attract more college basketball and an Outkast reunion tour — your call which of those is more likely to happen.) We still have a ways to go.

Cordish mulling harborfront stadium in Baltimore, price and subsidy to be determined

Cordish Cos., who you’ll remember as the guys who failed in an attempt to get approval for a Las Vegas arena with no sports tenants and then succeeding in getting $122 million in public money for a soccer stadium for a Vegas team that doesn’t exist yet, is proposing to build a 15,000-seat arena on the Baltimore waterfront, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. The arena would go on Piers 5 and 6, which are currently occupied by a Cordish-run music pavilion, a hotel, and a couple of restaurants.

The BBJ has few other details, other than to say that it could be expanded to host an eventual NBA or NHL franchise, that it could cost “hundreds of millions of dollars” (duh), and that “public financing would also likely play a role” (also duh). As for me, I’m mostly disappointed that my initial misreading of the headline “Cordish floating plans to build Inner Harbor arena on Piers 5 and 6” turns out not to mean that they’re planning one of these.

“Privately financed” Baltimore arena would need public funds

So as you may recall, a 93-year-old Baltimore developer wants to build a new $500 million arena and hotel complex, alongside a $400 million convention center expansion that would be paid for by taxpayers. The arena/hotel, though, would be privately financed … except, now, for the bit where it wouldn’t actually be privately financed:

Donald C. Fry, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said his group still hopes to secure the necessary funds to privately finance both the arena and the hotel at the corner of Charles and Conway streets. But Fry, whose group is leading the fundraising efforts for the project, acknowledged public dollars may be needed…

“There is no doubt it is going to require some city and state financial commitment for the entire project, and maybe even the arena possibly,” Fry said.

Still, it’s tough to argue with the fact that Baltimore needs a new arena, as the old one is 50 years old and is, er, the top-grossing arena in the U.S. for its size? But anyway, without a new arena Baltimore will surely lose the, um, I mean, won’t be able to lure a, wait a minute. Does anybody remember why Baltimore supposedly needs a new arena?

“They’re doing a remarkable job. We just wonder how much better SMG could be doing with a bigger-size” arena, [Visit Baltimore CEO Tom] Noonan said.

Now there’s a question worth $900 million to answer.

Baltimore to study $900m arena-convention-hotel project

We haven’t heard much about Baltimore’s plans for a new arena for a few years now, but that seems about to change: The Maryland Stadium Authority is about to conduct a feasibility study of a $900 million plan to build a new arena, a hotel on top of it, and an expanded Baltimore Convention Center.

Willard Hackerman, described by the Baltimore Sun as a “Baltimore construction magnate” (which will always make me think of Stringer Bell), has promised to finance the arena and hotel — or rather, to “engage in creating a private partnership that will privately finance the arena and the hotel,” which isn’t quite the same thing. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least, to see how Hackerman goes about raising private funds to build an arena with no anchor sports tenant, at least until such time that an NBA or NHL team can be identified to relocate there. Did I mention that Hackerman is 92 years old?

In any case, that still leaves the $400 million convention center cost, which as previously established is a ridiculous amount of money to spend on an expanded convention facility unless you’re Las Vegas or Orlando. (Editor’s note: Baltimore is not Las Vegas or Orlando.) Donald Fry, head of the business-run Greater Baltimore Committee that is pushing this plan, told the Sun (in the newspaper’s words) that “he believes the $400 million cost of expanding the convention center could be paid by the city or state or both, by issuing bonds.” Which is identical to telling your mortgage broker, “Sure, I can afford to pay for this house — I’m going to use the money I borrow from you!” Any J-school professors out there who can work on drumming it into budding journalists’ heads that bonds have to be paid off eventually? Please?

Anyway, once someone figures out who’ll pay the $150,000 cost, it looks like we’ll have another study to kick around soon. Which, given how the last Baltimore study turned out, is likely to involve a whole lot of kicking.