Twisted logic of stadium tax is contagious

Tuesday, June 30, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

My friend, Dianne, bought a $20 ticket for me to the John Fogerty concert at Riverbend, then tried to gouge me for an additional $7.75. "Your service charge seems a little steep to me, Dianne," I told her.

"Hey, I'm not making a dime on these tickets," she replied. "I'm giving these to you at my cost."

Right. Well, I was not born yesterday. I have a copy of the most recent Cincinnati Bell White Pages, and I'm not afraid to use them. I called Riverbend. I was told that the cost of my ticket includes $2.50 for parking.

The parking fumble

I explained that I would be riding with a friend and hoped to stick her with parking, as is my custom. I simply make a big show of reaching for my purse, then paw around through the breath mints and tissues until she gets bored and forks over the money. Works every time. Except at Riverbend. There, everybody pays for parking. Even if your car is parked at home. Even if you do not have a car. Even if you arrive in a taxi. Since 1994, when the queue of cars waiting to pay for parking was blamed for a traffic accident, Riverbend has added a $2.50 parking fee to every ticket.

It used to cost $5 per car, and Riverbend spokesman Mike Smith points out that the current charge simply reflects the "reality of people generally arriving two to a car." It may not be entirely fair, but there is some logic.

So, my ticket now is up to $22.50. The other $5.25 is a service charge for ordering by telephone and having the tickets mailed. "People are more than willing to pay for this convenience," Mr. Smith says. "I don't know of anybody who would like to go back to the days of camping out in a line waiting for tickets."

So why, I am wondering, is the entertainment business so horrified that Cincinnati City Council might raise the price of a ticket by a few pennies? Wednesday, council will vote on a tax that would increase the 3 percent admissions tax to 4.25 percent to honor a funding commitment to Cincinnati Public Schools.

"Clearly, the entertainment industry is not going to support a tax on the backs of our patrons," Jeff Berding, director of community affairs for the Cincinnati Bengals, said. Strong words from a man who thinks that a football stadium should be built on the backs of people who may never set foot inside one.

The funding plan also calls for applying the city's 2 percent earnings tax to out-of-town entertainers. "There are major artists who may not be willing to come," warned Bradley Broecker, president of Broadway Series management group, adding that the tax might simply be passed along to patrons.

Twisted logic

"Cincinnati is hoping for a healthy downtown entertainment industry," Mr. Smith said. "Why make it more difficult? It defies logic." Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but logic never has been a big part of this project. Logic would tell us that the sports industry should pay for its own facilities. Logic would tell us a football stadium used 10 times a years should not be squatting on some of the most expensive year-round real estate in the region. Logic.

How about this logic? The children of Cincinnati are potential customers for events at The Crown and the Aronoff Center and the Taft. That is, if they are not desperate and ignorant and poor.

If it makes sense for people who buy a refrigerator in Hamilton County to be taxed for a football stadium, then it makes at least as much sense for the city to impose a modest tax on a different clump of people, consumers who seem relatively impervious to cost.

The city has promised this money to the schools. They have to get it somewhere. They cannot just wait around, pawing through breath mints and tissues, hoping somebody else will grab the check.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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