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Published: Sunday, 3/7/2010

Event-tax plan not a hit with hockey fans

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dave Falkenberg, with his wife, Carol, says, 'Now that there's entertainment downtown, I suppose the city figures that's where the dollars are. But will it keep people from coming downtown?' Mr. Falkenberg played for the former Toledo Goaldiggers in the 1980s. Dave Falkenberg, with his wife, Carol, says, 'Now that there's entertainment downtown, I suppose the city figures that's where the dollars are. But will it keep people from coming downtown?' Mr. Falkenberg played for the former Toledo Goaldiggers in the 1980s.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Taxes, taxes, taxes.

They may be the price we pay for civilization, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., noted.

But civilization or not, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell's proposed 8 percent sports-and-events tax isn't getting much support so far.

The tax, which would apply to admission tickets and raise $1 million this year for the crisis-ridden city, is attracting solid opposition from the entities that would be forced to charge it - which include many of Toledo's sports, arts, and cultural institutions.

And it didn't seem such a good idea to some hockey fans downtown last night for the sold-out Walleye game with the Charlotte Checkers.

"Eight percent - that's kind of tough," said Dave Falkenberg, who was visiting Toledo with his wife, Carol, from Fenton, Mich. "Now that there's entertainment downtown, I suppose the city figures that's where the dollars are. But will it keep people from coming downtown?"

Brenda Hoot of Waterville, after first expressing sympathy for Mr. Bell, said she doubted the tax would in the end produce a net revenue increase for Toledo.

"He's in a tough situation. He has to generate income somewhere," she explained at the Lucas County Arena before the start of the hockey game. "I understand the need for income in the city, and I understand there are limited places to find that revenue."

But, she continued, if visitors to downtown had to spend more on tickets, they would probably spend less in the bars and restaurants, which would hurt city tax collections.

"I think it's unfortunate that something that's bringing people and business downtown should be taxed," Ms. Hoot said. "I wonder if the city has projected this out long term."

Mr. Falkenberg played for the former Toledo Goaldiggers from 1980-86 and was part of the Hockey History Weekend observance at the arena. As he and his wife enjoyed a pregame dinner at the Blarney Irish Pub, he said he remembered downtown from his days as a player and found it much improved today.

"Back then, you wouldn't dream of sitting in a nice bar downtown before a hockey game," he explained, and wondered if the ticket tax would jeopardize this progress.

Mary and Larry Brown of Temperance said much the same as they ate at the Blarney. Their outing included the Walleye game and spending the night at the Park Inn, the former downtown Radisson.

"They're trying to get people to come to downtown Toledo. You can afford a Mud Hens ticket, but the Tigers cost an arm and a leg. It costs $20 just to park in Detroit. I don't think [the ticket tax] is a good idea," Mr. Brown said.

John Orr, co-owner of the Bronze Boar bar on South Huron Street, didn't mince words. "Toledo is just killing itself," he said, with the entertainment tax and other tax increases proposed by the mayor to close a $48 million budget deficit. The ticket tax is a small part of Mr. Bell's plan to balance the city budget.

Mr. Orr said his business was bound to suffer if fewer people came downtown because of higher ticket prices.

Nonprofit organizations obliged to collect the tax would include the Stranahan and Valentine theaters, Fifth Third Field, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Symphony, Toledo Opera, Lucas County Arena, Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, Savage Arena, Toledo Repertoire Theater, and Imagination Station.

They've dubbed it the "Family Ticket Tax" because a survey done for the Mud Hens and Walleye shows that 83 percent of area families - defined as households with children - would end up paying the tax eventually.

Officials of the Stranahan Theater, which is not downtown, were among the latest to speak up. They issued a news release Friday urging area residents to tell Toledo City Council members not to approve the tax.

"Essentially the city of Toledo is arbitrarily raising ticket prices at all Stranahan events without our approval, endorsement, or consent or that of the promoters," the release stated.

Joe Napoli, general manager of the Mud Hens and Walleye, said the survey was done by Scarborough Research, the teams' market researcher, using data collected from October, 2008, to September, 2009.

Mr. Napoli said that even a 5 percent decrease in attendance at Mud Hens games and the arena would translate into 52,000 fewer visitors downtown. He said he's trying to get word out about the hazard the tax poses to the downtown economy.

"We're in education mode - City Council, the mayor's office, and now the public. We have to explain to everyone what this means," he said.

Contact Carl Ryan at

carlryan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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