Only one council member has used Riverfront Park’s VIP box for ‘economic development’, city always renews subscriptions
WILMINGTON — It caused a stir among officials, local media and attentive taxpayers when the city of Wilmington offered to spend $14,000 on VIP season concert tickets to the Live Oak Pavilion last summer.
Before signing the bill, city staff drew up a “ticket distribution policy”, which originally would have counted council members for VIP seats and given them first tips on shows. The only permitted uses of the tickets would have been to promote economic development, recognize city employees, or address non-profit organizations or entities believed to improve the quality of life.
After news outlets picked up stories about the spending, first reported by WHQR, the city council faced pushback from residents who objected to the idea of their public dollars being spent in exclusive tickets, costing $176.55 each with tax. In response to the unwanted attention, Mayor Bill Saffo worked with the city attorney to significantly refine the draft policy.
The reduced version only allows the tickets to be used to stimulate economic development, especially to impress people who can or create jobs. At the time, Saffo said he knew businessmen who visited the park on their own and “fell in love with it”. Council members would pay for their place at the VIP table under the new guidelines.
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Only one board member ended up enjoying the exclusive seat — and he paid his ticket well, as well as his guest, according to the town.
Neil Anderson attended a show with a “hospitality industry executive who was exploring opportunities for expansion,” a city spokesperson said. Anderson told the Port City Daily he thinks business owners are likely still exploring sites and leases.
“It’s about where and when,” Anderson wrote in a text. “They went [to the show] all the same. I just wanted to extend the hospitality of the city.”
Turns out Anderson said people got tickets with a better view ahead of time and ended up moving seats. He said the city would have dealt with them if they hadn’t already purchased tickets before he learned they would be in town.
“Always served its purpose,” he added.
Anderson was one of two opposing minority council members when the refined ticket distribution guidelines were approved in July. At the time, he said the city was giving in to tabloid journalism and letting it dictate policy by reducing permitted uses for tickets.
“We were talking about rewarding certain employees, potentially. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with taking kids there who might not be able to afford it? he said at the July 20 meeting.
Despite the reported low usage of the VIP table in 2021, the city renewed its subscriptions for 2022 for $13,911.60. The four-seater box is good for 20 shows.
“Much of the first concert season coincided with the Delta variant push, which hampered business travel and impacted box usage,” the city spokeswoman explained. , Jennifer Dandron, asked about the interest of renewing after such low demand.
Last year’s season passes cost the city $13,200, or $14,124 after taxes go into effect. This year’s cost rose slightly to $14,321, or $15,324 with tax. But the city received a credit of $1,412.40 from the 2021 season because Live Nation only hosted 18 of the 20 guaranteed shows, driving down the cost.
It is unclear what happened to the remaining tickets, worth around $14,000, for the 2021 season. Port City Daily asked earlier in the week how many were unused and successfully resold, but had no no response yet on Friday. (This article will be updated when and if this information becomes available.)
According to the ticket distribution policy, the city is supposed to sell “surplus” passes when there is no economic development reason to use them.
To obtain the tickets, a city councilor or executive staff member is supposed to present the use of them to the city manager, who then judges whether the reasoning is appropriate and in the name of economic development.
Economic development is defined under the policy as: “continuing activities determined by the City to increase the population, taxable assets, agricultural industries, employment, industrial production or commercial prospects of the City, and to encourage the revitalization of low-income communities and job creation. development.”
Riverfront Park’s next concert season will run from April to October and so far includes announced artists Bon Iver, Leon Bridges and Haim. Live Nation is asking the city for permission to schedule up to 30 events this year at the site, with 10 more allowed under its contract.
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