City Considers Additional Tax On Tickets At Dunkin' Donuts Park

When lawmakers adopted a budget in October, they promised millions in additional aid for the struggling capital city.

But tucked in the budget bill was another provision that will cost Hartford hundreds of thousands of dollars — the repeal of an exemption that had allowed the city to collect the 10 percent state admissions tax from the newly opened Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

Hartford took in $290,000 in ticket tax revenue during the Yard Goats’ inaugural season at home. The law change redirects that money to the state.

To offset the loss, city leaders are now looking to impose an additional 5 percent tax on tickets. Mayor Luke Bronin has asked the city council for approval to levy the surcharge.

“We’ll look to collect the maximum revenue allowed under state law from tickets sold at Dunkin’ Donuts Park,” Bronin said.

“You can measure the success of the ballpark in a lot of ways: In the thousands of fans and families that it’s brought to Hartford … the number of sellouts and the boost to local restaurants and businesses,” he said. “But as I’ve said for a number of years now, this was never going to be a financial winner for the city in the near term.”

If the council authorizes the additional tax, Hartford will receive only about $145,000 this year. Under state law, Connecticut cities and towns can impose a surcharge of up to 5 percent on admissions to entertainment or recreation venues. That surcharge is separate from the 10-percent state tax.

Individual tickets to the Yard Goats games range from $6 to $19. A 5 percent bump would push the price of the cheapest ticket to $6.30, and the most expensive ticket to $19.95.

It’s not yet clear whether the team would pass the increase along to consumers or absorb the cost. Yard Goats General Manager Tim Restall said in a statement: “The team was surprised to hear about this proposed amending ordinance and is working to have a better understanding of it.”

Council President Thomas “TJ” Clarke II said he supports the additional tax but worries that it would send an unfriendly message to Yard Goats fans, who packed the stadium during the team’s first season at Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

The Yard Goats sold out 41 of their 68 home games, and drew a total attendance of 395,196 — the largest of any professional baseball team in Connecticut’s history and the second highest in the Eastern League.

“I just don’t want this to deter people from buying baseball tickets,” Clarke said. “Attendance was great this past season and I want that momentum to carry on into this next season.”

A council committee is weighing the proposal and it could come up for a vote next month.

The law change adopted in October has posed problems for other Hartford entertainment facilities. Until recently, the XL Center was exempt from the 10 percent ticket tax. The repeal undoes that exemption.

The outdated arena, run by the Capital Region Development Authority, already is having a hard time competing with other concert halls. Michael Freimuth, CRDA’s executive director, said the new mandate would put a $300,000 hole in the XL Center’s budget, since the authority probably won’t pass the cost along to ticket buyers.

“Right now, the demand for tickets and price point for tickets aren’t changing,” he said. “There’s only so much tolerance to increase the price. When you can’t push a ticket up by the full 10 percent, you have to make it up by taking it out of your pocket.”

“The irony here is the state gives us money to close the operating deficit, but it opened up the operating deficit,” Freimuth added. “So we’re just chasing ourselves in a circle.”

The law change took effect Dec. 1. But the XL Center has already scheduled events for 2018, and ticket prices have been set.

“You just can’t go call up everybody and say, ‘Hey, you owe us two more bucks,’” Freimuth said. “It just wouldn’t work.”

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