October 18, 2018

Ticket Fee Vital to Future of Nationwide Arena

An overwhelmingly supportive crowd jammed Columbus City Council chambers Oct. 11 to speak in favor of a ticket fee to provide the arts and Nationwide Arena with funds needed for long-term viability.

The meeting was the first public hearing held by City Council’s Rules and Reference Committee on a Greater Columbus Arts Council proposal to levy a 7 percent surcharge on tickets to arts events, entertainment and professional sports. The proposal would generate an estimated $14 million a year, of which 70 percent would go back to arts and cultural organizations and 30 percent – or about $4.2 million a year – would go to Arena building improvements.

Funding capital improvements has been difficult from the moment the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority took ownership of the Arena in 2012. Capital improvement funds were to come from the Arena’s share of casino tax revenues. However, revenues never reached projections. During 2018, the FCCFA expected to receive about $5.1 million in casino tax revenues. Of that amount, $4.68 million was needed for arena operations, $165,000 for land lease payments and $263,000 for property taxes.

“Without capital reinvestment, the Arena won’t meet our community’s sports and entertainment needs for the next 20 years,” FCCFA Executive Director Don Brown testified. “Without reinvestment, the Arena will slide into obsolescence just like downtown Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank arena. Like Cincinnati, Columbus will no longer be able to host major national conventions and sporting events.”

Without capital reinvestment, the Arena won’t meet our community’s sports and entertainment needs for the next 20 years.

While the Arena desperately needs additional capital improvement funds, Brown reiterated the FCCFA’s support for greater arts funding, noting that “we have invested and built the largest contemporary collection of Columbus art, which residents and visitors can see free of charge throughout our facilities. We could have established an Arena facility fee and retained all the proceeds for capital needs of the Arena, but we felt it was important to contribute to the overall need of the arts community, and that’s why we’ve joined forces with the Arts Council in support of this proposal.”

Arts Council President Tom Katzenmeyer refuted opponents’ claims that imposing a fee would drive lower attendance at Columbus venues where tickets are sold. He noted that the Arts Council commissioned a study to examine the effects of similar ticket fees in 29 cities and that “we don’t see anything that shows a negative impact.”

Currently, 63 Ohio cities, and all of the cities Columbus competes with, have such fees. The highest fee within Columbus’ competitive set is Indianapolis, at 10 percent; Cleveland’s is 8 percent.

The Arts Council’s proposal exempts a number of events such as fundraisers for nonprofits, race and walk registrations, tickets costing less than $10 and live performances at venues with 400 seats or less. The full proposal and list of exemptions is available here.

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