Two hockey players fighting on the ice with a ref looking on

Columbus citizens voted five times not to spend public taxes on private sports arenas like Nationwide. So why is the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) trying to extort taxpayer dollars under the guise of supporting “arts and culture” to bail out the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Nationwide Arena boondoggle?

The first open forum on GCAC’s proposed 7 percent ticket tax faced stiff opposition Wednesday night, August 22 at the Vanderelli Room art gallery and event space with standing room only. The ticket proposal would place a 7 percent increase to all Columbus cultural and sports events except for high school and college sport events.

The tax is estimated to generate $14 million a year. GCAC is straightforward in their fronting for the Arena’s needs. Point Four of their handout entitled “The Proposed Ticket Fee Helps All of Columbus and Franklin County” specifically states that the tax will “…fund up to $4 million annually in efficient, essential renovations to Nationwide Arena, to maintain the facility and attract major concert shows, and sporting events that add so much to our economy and quality of life.”

Despite the fact that Columbus city voters have rejected tax money going into the Arena that benefits a private professional sports team, GCAC’s proposal has already targeted two projects for the Arena, specifying that “…upcoming roof repairs and scoreboard upgrades (at $5 million each) are among the significant, and unfunded, investments needed.”

So under the guise of promoting art, a repeatedly rejected tax proposal will pass without a vote of the people. Even though voters turned down public money for the Arena, Columbus City Council has the power to levy the new ticket tax under state law without submitting it to a vote of the people.

This issue was brought up repeatedly by opponents to the tax at the first public forum. Daniel McCormick suggested that instead of taxing poor and working-class people trying to go to entertainment events, why not get developers who live outside of the city to pay taxes or rent on the properties they own in Columbus?

Representatives of various small arts organizations argued for an exemption of the ticket tax for venues that seat 1000 people or less, claiming there would be no margin to pay a tax. They openly worried they would be criminalized as tax evaders if they didn’t properly collect the extra tax on admissions.

But it is just not the small arts and entertainment community complaining.

Members of a newly formed citizen’s coalition entitled A.R.T. (Advocates for Responsible Taxation) joined in opposition to the proposed tax. The A.R.T. membership consists of a diverse group of area residents who believe the unneeded and unwarranted tax threatens the middle class while shining the light on this special interest driven new tax.

A.R.T.’s press statement contends that the City of Columbus already has one of the highest hotel “bed taxes” in the Midwest with a good portion of those taxes going directly to support the arts. They stated that raising ticket prices and forcing families to pay more is not the answer and the cost to the Columbus community would be far too great. The regressive nature of the ticket tax is disproportionately placed on the back of those families with less wealth and income who simple won’t be able to enjoy an affordable family night out.

It is estimated that the ticket tax would force the Columbus Clippers, a AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, to collect more than $350,000 from its patrons.

Jim Lorimer, co-founder of the Arnold Classic, speaking at a Greater Columbus Sport Commission Board meeting on August 15, referred to “a coalition of thirty-plus organizations that produce and present a wide range – more than 50 large-scale events in Columbus each year” that oppose the tax. “This coalition has been formed in response to the ticket tax proposal that these many important event organizers fear will significantly and adversely affect the financial viability and future of these events in Columbus.”

Lorimer pointed out that the Taylor Swift show generated $6 million in ticket sales, but under the new proposal $480,000 would have been grabbed by GCAC. Lorimer argued that such large taxes would work against bringing “world level entertainment” to Columbus.

Two subsequent open forums on the tax followed a similar script. Jami Goldstein, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Events for the Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC), told Business First that there are two things holding up the proposed 7 percent tax on tickets to all arts and entertainment events: “Those would be Nationwide Arena funding and the impact on independent arts organizations.”

With the small arts groups opposing the ticket tax, along with “30-plus” large entertainment organizations, who is advocating for the ticket tax? Only the Greater Columbus Arts Council whose president and CEO Tom Katzenmeyer described his group as “the city’s art agency.” The reality is that while the GCAC will consolidate its power as the Columbus’ official authoritarian art organization, as all the money will be run through their organization. They’ve done so by fronting for the Blue Jackets.

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