The flap last fall about Cleveland’s extraordinarily high 8 percent admissions tax on tickets and its impact on the city’s smallish live music venues has moved into action mode. Thirteen clubs formed the Cleveland Music Club Coalition in September to get the ear of city council. In October, four West Side councilmen introduced an ordinance that would exempt small clubs that offer live music three or more times a week.
So far, the ordinance is waiting in line for its date with council.
To bolster their case, the coalition is taking its cause public this Friday with a “Protect Music” event at 9 of the 13 member clubs. The Beachland, Brothers Lounge, the Garage Bar, Happy Dog, the Harp, Now That’s Class, Peabody’s, Prosperity, and Roc Bar will host local bands, offer information about which government officials to pester about this, and share copies of the online petition in support of relaxing the tax rules.
Coalition members report that a growing number of councilmembers are warming to their cause, though the mayor’s office remains an icy patch.
“It looks like the administration doesn’t support it,” says councilman Mike Polensek. “But if you think what I have proposed isn’t feasible, come up with something that is. Don’t just say no. If we’re going to revitalize the Waterloo Roads and Detroit Avenues of the city, you’ve got to come up with a plan to help these small venues that are so hard-pressed. They don’t get the tax subsidies and tax breaks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the House of Blues. To lump them in the same [taxation] category with the Cavs, the Browns, and the Indians is ridiculous.”
Sean Watterson of Happy Dog says they’re angling for a sitdown with the mayor. “He said he would meet with us. He said he has to get through the budget process and the State of the City speech on March 8, so we won’t meet with him until the middle of March. There’s no indication he might change his position, but he will meet with us.”
The group is also getting assistance from Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, which is helping clubs gather information on the economic activity they generate.
“We’re not making money [on admissions],” says Watterson. “We are contributing to the life of the city, and we are creating jobs, and we think we’re worth a second look. We hope we get the opportunity when we meet with the mayor to make that case.”