City looks to tax non-profit theater groups

Ann Rainey.

Evanston aldermen are expected to soon consider expanding the city's amusement tax to cover many non-profit theater performances.

But action on the idea is not expected until after the City Council next week adopts its 2020 budget, which includes a plan to raise the amusement tax on for-profit events from 4% to 5% of ticket revenue.

Aldermen Monday asked city staff to research how to best structure a tax on the non-profit theaters.

Based on prior Council discussion, there appeared to be consensus that larger organizations -- including Northlight Theatre, which is planning to move back to Evanston from Skokie -- should be subject to the tax.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, on Monday suggested that itinerant theater groups -- ones that don't have their own venue -- or ones with less than 65 seats should not be taxed.

If theaters with more than 65 seats were subject to the tax, then it would appear that the recently opened Theo Ubique on Howard Street in Rainey's ward would be subject to the tax. Plans for that venue show a capacity of 86 seats.

Rainey also raised the idea of taxing tickets to non-profit theater groups last year -- suggesting that the tax would help fund more city aid for the arts.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said the tax plan needs more research, and that, as an example, he wouldn't want to see the YAMO student production at Evanston Township High School subject to the tax.

It was not clear from the discussion Monday how an expanded tax might apply to groups like Music Theater Works, which rents Northwestern University's Cahn Auditorium for most of its productions, or to productions staged by student groups at Northwestern or by the university itself.

Rainey had previously suggested exempting some groups based on their falling below a certain revenue threshold, but City Attorney Michelle Masoncup suggested it would be easier to base the cutoff on number of seats or some other measure that wouldn't require determining how much the venue receives in revenue.

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