hamilton_cast_chicago.jpg

The cast of “Hamilton” receives a standing ovation during the opening night curtain call at Chicago’s PrivateBank Theatre. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed that larger theatrical productions, such as “Hamilton,” pay a higher city amusement tax. / Photo by Miriam Di Nunzio

EDITORIAL: A smarter tax for a city proud of its art scene

SHARE EDITORIAL: A smarter tax for a city proud of its art scene
SHARE EDITORIAL: A smarter tax for a city proud of its art scene

As taxes go, this one looks to us like a net win for the arts in Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday proposed that mid-size entertainment venues, such as theaters and concert halls, be exempted from a 5 percent city amusement tax on the price of a ticket. Instead, to make up the lost revenue and more, bigger entertainment venues will pay a higher tax, 9 percent instead of 5.

EDITORIAL

As you might expect, that’s not going over well with the big boys. The owners of the United Center wasted no time posting a warning online that the higher tax will make it harder to book shows. “As the shows leave,” they warned, “so will the dollars that flow through restaurants, cabs and hotels on any given show night.”

But, with respect, we’ll believe it when we see it that big stadium shows, already catering to folks willing to pay a hefty ticket price, no longer will be able to pack in the crowds. And we suspect the big commercial theater presenters, such as the producers of “Hamilton,” will continue to do fine.

Eliminating the tax for mid-size entertainment venues, however, is in keeping with Chicago’s strong history as an incubator of the arts, especially live theater and music. The big venues bring in the best from out of town. Not for nothing is it called “Broadway in Chicago.” Small and mid-size venues book road shows, too, but do more to nurture homegrown creativity. We’re thinking of venues such as Thalia Hall in Pilsen, the Metro in Lincoln Park and iO Theater on the Near North Side.

Perhaps more to the point, small and mid-size venues are more likely to be located throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods, rather than be concentrated in the greater Loop. A city tax policy that supports neighborhood development, in whatever form, is welcomed.

Currently, the city charges a 5 percent amusement tax on shows in any for-profit venue with a capacity of 750 seats or more. Emanuel’s proposal would exempt venues with 750 to 1,499 seats. Smaller venues — those with fewer than 750 seats — already are exempt, as are nonprofit institutions such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Goodman Theatre.

We asked Emanuel, during a visit with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, about the United Center’s complaint. He did not sound overly concerned.

“I can guarantee you they will continue to have performances there,” he said.

The live arts scene in many cities outside of New York is dominated by road shows. “Les Miserables” hits town and everybody squeals.

Chicago at its best, in contrast, has a scene of its own.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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