Wilmington taxpayers could be on the hook for $14K worth of VIP tickets for City Council at new amphitheater

There are three different uses for the tickets that would be permitted – economic development, employee performance, and community development
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 2:37 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Wilmington taxpayers already spent millions on paying for the newest venue in downtown – the Live Oak Bank Pavilion. Now, they could be on the hook paying thousands for box seats reserved mainly for City Council members in the name of economic development.

On Tuesday, City Council will vote on a unique ordinance that would authorize more than $14,000 to purchase box seats and a table for four at all of the upcoming shows at the venue. There are actually two different ordinances involved in the request – the first would allow for the city’s purchase of the tickets, and the second would set the policy of who could use the tickets and why.

There are three different uses for the tickets that would be permitted – economic development, employee performance, and community development.

City representatives discussed the request on Monday morning and admitted that it is a unique proposal – and something that appears to be somewhat unprecedented. Councilman Charlie Rivenbark asked during the city’s agenda briefing if this was standard practice in cities where public funds have been used to create event spaces.

“It is actually not typical, however, I am aware that with publicly owned venues such as this there is a significant amount of pressure on public officials and leaders and even staff for requests for tickets,” Director of Community Services Amy Beatty said.

Essentially, this would, in theory, head off any deals that might be made or asked for as a favor, instead, making it not only transparent but permissible to offer such favors.

So who could use the tickets? The ordinance outlines how they would be distributed with City Council members getting the first crack at them.

“Use of any Tickets covered by this policy will first be made available to any City Council member who intends to use them for one of the approved purposes,” according to the draft. “Only the specific City Council member and any individual Recipient who is directly involved in the allowable economic or community development activity are eligible to receive Tickets from the City.

“If the City Council member would like to bring any other individuals, including family members of either the City Council member or the Recipient, then those Tickets will be required to be purchased through payment to the City for the full value of those Tickets.”

For example, if a council member or mayor wanted to take a developer who was considering a new apartment complex in Wilmington to see Santana, it would be permitted and those seats would be paid for by city funds.

There are questions as to the ethics of the policy, and City Attorney Meredith Everhart addressed why the city was not very successful in finding similar policies.

“A lot of cities don’t do this — buy these boxes in the first place — because there are so many regulations on what officials can actually take advantage of so that’s why we can’t find any policies to mirror this after... because it is such a risk of stepping into something you don’t want to be into,” she said.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo had his own thoughts on the proposal and told WECT he does not think the current ordinance is what Council wants to see, and wants to assure folks that taxpayers won’t be footing the bill for elected officials to spend a night out on the town.

“No council member wants to use this box in any way shape or form that would be at the discretion at the city manager only for economic development — the city council would purchase their own tickets; we’re not going to be given access to that box,” he said.

Saffo also took issue with the plans to use money from the General Fund to pay for the box seats.

“We felt that the city should control a box there and that the venue itself would pay for the box so no taxpayer money would go into the box. We get a certain amount of money from live nation to rent the park, we get a certain percentage from ticket sales,” he said.

City Council will meet on Tuesday where it will have to vote on approving or denying the proposed purchase.

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