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Admissions tax could help pay for baseball stadium

It would add 5 percent to the cost of entertainment tickets

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Published: May 17, 2011, 12:00am

While a formal proposal has yet to be submitted to Clark County commissioners on building a $23 million stadium at Clark College, one scenario would involve a 70-30 public-private split.

On May 13, owners of the Yakima Bears said they wanted to move the Class A baseball team to Vancouver.

Under the scenario, the owners would put up 30 percent of capital costs, then pay for ongoing maintenance and operations of the multiuse facility.

The proposed 3,500-seat facility would be used by Clark College teams, Little League squads and be available for other community events when not being used 38 nights a year for the Bears.

Ron Arp, a project adviser for Identity Clark County who has been hired by Short Season, LLC — the company that owns and operates the Bears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks — said Monday that details are still being worked out.

The most likely proposal, he said, would be that commissioners are asked to issue general obligation bonds to finance 70 percent of the capital costs.

The bonds would be repaid using revenue from an admissions tax, which adds 5 percent to the cost of entertainment tickets, including movies.

Five counties in the state (Franklin, Grant, King, Kitsap and Snohomish) have admission taxes; 51 cities, ranging in size from Seattle to Omak, have enacted the tax.

At Qwest Field and Safeco Field in Seattle, there’s a 10 percent tax on tickets, which required approval from the state Legislature.

According to state figures, cities collected a total of 16.2 million in admission taxes in 2009.

Of the three cities larger than Vancouver, Seattle collected $5.5 million in ’09, Tacoma collected $1.4 million and Spokane collected $851,440.

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None of the cities in Clark County has an admissions tax, which was originally included in the state Revenue Act of 1935.

The state admissions tax was repealed in 1943 and the authority to levy the tax was given to cities and counties, according to the state Department of Revenue.

If commissioners vote to enact the tax, there would be exemptions, said Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor. School events cannot be charged the tax and nonprofit organizations may be exempted, he said.

Commissioners could also put in a sunset clause to take the tax off the books after stadium bonds are paid, Potter said.

Unlike some fees and taxes, the admissions tax doesn’t have a specific requirement about how revenues are used other than they go for a municipal service, Potter said.

Adriana Prata, county budget analyst, said Monday she and county financial analyst Mark Gassaway are trying to verify the estimate provided by baseball supporters that an admissions tax would bring in $1 million to $1.3 million in revenue annually.

The county’s 50 movie screens would bring in approximately $600,000, Prata said. Now they are looking at other venues, including Sleep Country Amphitheater or the Clark County Fairgrounds, where event tickets could be subjected to the tax.

The tax could also be put on bars where people pay a cover charge, Prata said.

Once the team owners submit a written proposal to the county commissioners, a work session will be scheduled for Commissioners Tom Mielke, Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart to discuss the details.

Potter said one potential sticking point might be that if commissioners impose the tax countywide, then a city decides it wants the revenues, the city could impose a tax that would take the revenue from the county.

Arp said it’s likely the county will have to have an agreement with the cities not to do that.

“I think it would be difficult to bond otherwise,” Arp said.

Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman brought the point up during Monday night’s city council meeting. Burkman, who is also a Clark College trustee, said he would recuse himself from any discussions on the Clark College board regarding baseball.

While he said the idea of baseball in the city is a “phenomenal” idea, he criticized the project’s “fast” timeline to break ground in August and said neighborhoods were “blindsided” by the proposal.

He touched on the fact that an entertainment tax could be used for any purpose.

“I believe we’re obligated to have a conversation with citizens about whether we should impose this tax on them, and if this is the best use of those funds,” Burkman said.

The city council agreed it wants a joint work session with county commissioners when details are ready.

While movie theaters would be the single biggest contributor to the revenue stream, Vancouver developer Elie Kassab, who owns Battle Ground Cinema, said Monday he would not oppose the tax.

When an admissions tax was suggested in Battle Ground, Kassab opposed it.

But if the tax applies to every screen in the county, then it’s a level playing field, he said.

“If that is what it is going to take to bring economic development, then I am not going to oppose it,” Kassab said. “But ultimately, it’s up to the moviegoers.”

The 5 percent tax would increase a $10 ticket to $10.50.

Team owners hope to have the stadium, which would be built east of Interstate 5 and west of Fort Vancouver Way on the college’s current baseball field, ready for Opening Day next year.

A 70-30 public-private split is almost twice what other team owners would put into a project, Arp said.

Arp said Mike and Laura McMurray, who co-own the Yakima team with general manager K.L. Wombacher, are willing to put more capital at risk because of what they see as a “good, healthy market” for baseball.

With the departure of the Portland Beavers, the metro area became a magnet for teams such as Yakima. The team, which has been in Yakima since 1990, has the lowest attendance in the Northwest League, drawing about 1,900 people a game.

In Vancouver, the team would hope to draw crowds of approximately 2,800 people per game.

Ticket prices would range from $5 to $15.

Beer would be sold in the stadium, just as it’s sold at Vancouver Volcanoes basketball games at O’Connell Sports Center at Clark College.

Other teams in the short-season Class A Northwest League are -Boise, Eugene, Salem-Keizer, Tri-Cities-, Spokane, Everett and Vancouver, B.C.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com. Columbian reporter Andrea Damewood contributed to this report.

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