Tax Increase Doesn't Amuse Entertainment Businesses

50 Percent Rise In Levy Could Hurt Merriweather

March 25, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Merriweather Post Pavilion may be losing acts to Baltimore and Virginia because of a 50 percent increase in the county amusement tax, a pavilion spokesman said yesterday.

"Nobody likes taxes," said general manager Jean S. Parker. "But these taxes are unusually detrimental-- especially when the economy is like it is."

Parker is one of 15 signers on a letter to County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, asking for his help in getting the tax rolled backto 5 percent. The rise to 7.5 percent took effect last October.

The other signers represent local golfing, bowling, dining and entertainment establishments.

"Many people are already going outside the county for their recreational activities," the signers wrote to Gray in the three-page letter. "We need to do everything we can to reversethat trend."

The letter said Merriweather Post has been especially hard hit, a fact that Parker confirmed in a telephone interview yesterday.

The problem, she said, is that many entertainers are demanding such a large percentage of gross revenue that the pavilion cannot bring them here without increasing ticket prices.

Those prices are already "in the low to mid-20s for the pavilion, and the upper teens to $20 for general admission seating on the lawn," she said. One act is already priced in the "upper 20s for the pavilion and the lower20s for the lawn," she said.

The combination of high ticket prices and entertainers' demands for the largest portion of gross revenuesmakes it increasingly difficult for Merriweather to attract the actsit wants, Parker said.

"The lion's share (of receipts) is going to entertainers. If we don't give it, someone else in the area (like Pier 6 in Baltimore and Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.) will."

Additionalcompetition may be coming from Anne Arundel County. The county is seeking to purchase a 100-acre tract near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 198 as a site for an amphitheater similar to Wolf Trap.

Wolf Trap is federally subsidized. The Anne Arundel amphitheater would be be county-owned but privately leased.

"You try to operateas best you can," Parker said. "We are 100 percent privately owned. We don't have operating subsidies like every other venue of our size or larger in the Baltimore-Washington area."

The three-page letterto Gray said Merriweather's recent attendance figures are illustrative of the problem other entertainment and dining establishments are facing.

"In 1991, Merriweather presented 54 shows . . . yet the total attendance for 1991 was lower than 1990 when only 44 shows were presented," the letter said. "For the few tax dollars that might be raised, we risk harming what has become an 'institution' in Howard County" and "a major component in the economic development of Columbia andHoward County."

Gray said he plans to meet soon with the 15 business leaders. Their worry over an increase in the sales tax and the county amusement tax is a legitimate concern, Gray said.

"It is not uncommon for local government to provide tax incentives to help attract local businesses," he said. "I look at this as a similar kind of incentive. It is more than made up in expanding revenues" as a result of doing business in the county.

Parker said Merriweather adds about $2 million to the county in terms of employment, taxes, performers' expenditures and operating expenses. The $2 million figure does notinclude things such as advertising, she said.

In addition, to meeting with the group, Gray said he plans to ask Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-District 3, to meet with him and Merriweather officials to discuss how to make Merriweather more competitive with Wolf Trap.

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