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City increases Admiral's share of lodging tax
The Bremerton City Council Wednesday voted to increase the Admiral Theatre's share of special tax revenues from $90,000 to $150,000 annually.
The vote was 5-2, with council members Dianne Robinson and Roy Runyon voting no and members Adam Brockus and Carol Arends abstaining.
The increased funds came as the council's response to a letter sent by the Admiral's financial director Tim Lavin in which he sought their approval to modify the existing agreement after the theater foundation lost an annual contribution from the Ike Parker estate, $160,000 in 2011, and their spending expense of $120,000 on kitchen renovations.
In addition to foundation losses, the Lodging Tax Committee cut the theater's funds by $30,000, he said. Lavin also asked that the theater no longer be subject to the Lodging Tax Committee decision process.
The entire tax subsidy goes to the city-owned theater's maintenance and operations for the much-loved 1940s movie house turned 1,000-seat performing arts venue, which sells 50,000 tickets annually.
City Attorney Roger Lubovich said the $60,000 increase would only last for five years, until the lodging tax creating the revenue expires.
Council president Will Maupin said the deal seemed square if you consider that the city owns the building that Admiral Theater Foundation has spent millions on, including the recent renovation to the commercial kitchen.
Admiral Theatre Foundation board member Carol Sue Rogers described the Admiral as a "slice of excellence."
"What would downtown look like without the theater?" she asked.
Maupin said that the city originally raised the amount of lodging tax paid by hotel and motel guests from 2 percent to 4 percent to cover operations of the Admiral Theater specifically. The second two precent was to go to the Admiral Theater, he said.
The theater for years has received $90,000 for operations and maintenance. Maupin said that amounted to half of the agreed upon percentage of tax. Expenses for 2011 were already at $120,000, he said.
Most of the $350,000 collected every year by Bremerton's lodging tax is split between the Admiral and the Kitsap Convention Center a few blocks away on the waterfront.
According to state guidelines, lodging tax can only be used for promotion of tourism or construction and operation of tourism-related facilities.
The move to give more to the theater was supported by most on the board and in the public galley. Two citizens questioned the allocation and encouraged the money be spent elsewhere.
Susan Lavin manages the downtown branch of the Kitsap Regional Library. She said the theater was a great partner to the library and the children of the city.
Sue Shiply works at Viewridge Elementary School and said the Admiral is "value to the community" because it fills with school children during some performances and gives children exposure to the performing arts that would otherwise not exist.
Resident Don Shannon said it was "repugnant" that the city owned the Admiral and subsidized tickets for school children.
"Kid's grants, what about for adults?" Shannon asked.
Resident Jerry McDonald reminded the council that the lodging tax money could also be used to advertise the city's tourist attractions.
"Other things are important as well," he said.
District 2 Councilmember Cecil McConnell scoffed at the idea that loading tax money belonged elsewhere or was being misused. The Admiral would be a "rotting hulk" had the city not gotten involved and bought it back in the 1990s, he said.
"Those two entities [the convention center and Admiral Theater] bring in more tourists than all the other attractions combined," McConnell said.
District 7 Councilmember Roy Runyon proffered the idea of rolling some of the lodging tax money into parks and recreation maintenance to free money up to return city workers to the payroll.
District 4 Councilmember Jim McDonald said that the $90,000 allocation that has stood for 15 years was "not enough" in return for what the Admiral does for the city.
Kyle Kincade, a local CPA who works with the theater board said that funding the O&M of the Admiral at $150,000 annually is more sustainable.
Explaining the further value to the city, Lavin said that the board had put $5 million into theater renovations – $100,000 into the roof and windows alone for the city-owned building.
Without the lodging tax subsidy from the city, ticket costs would double to cover the true costs of the shows produced each year, Kincade said.
District 1 Councilmember Greg Wheeler voiced his support for the "tremendous partnership" and said that when there is nothing else going on in the city, the Admiral is all lit up – a "one of a kind" performing arts venue in Bremerton.
District 3 Councilmember Adam Brockus said his abstention of the vote to raise the Admiral's funding was based in the idea that the council should slow down and take more time with the decision.