Baton Rouge officials may have secured the popular Bayou Country Superfest for 2012, but the concert’s future beyond that is still up in the air.
The president of the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Paul Arrigo, has played a part in attracting the Memorial Day weekend music festival held in Tiger Stadium for the past two years and again in 2012.
Arrigo hopes to have a long-term commitment from Superfest organizers by next year’s concert, but acknowledged that Baton Rouge faces tough venue competition from New Orleans.
On Thursday, Arrigo told his board of directors that the New Orleans Superdome, which could be perceived as a competing concert venue, enjoys sales tax exemptions, as does the New Orleans Arena.
“If a promoter sells a $100 ticket he gets to keep $100 (at the Superdome), but here 9 percent goes to sales tax,” Arrigo said. “So why do we incentify? Because these are the things that we’re up against.”
Arrigo also said LSU’s stadium is not a natural concert venue, and transforming it into one proved to be burdensome and costly.
He noted that the seven-story stage could not fit through the regular portals of Tiger Stadium and required special equipment to bring it in.
“During these economic times, people ask why we give them (Superfest organizers) money to keep them here,” Arrigo said. “Well why do we pay the garbage man to pick up our trash? Because it’s the price of doing business.”
Arrigo said no other venue in Baton Rouge comes close to the seating capacity of Tiger Stadium, which holds more than 92,000 people. The Baton Rouge River Center only seats about 7,500.
With only two years under its belt, Superfest has already drawn upward of 75,000 people.
Arrigo said that regionally only the Superdome, with a seating capacity in excess of 73,000 people, comes close to Tiger Stadium.
Metro Councilman Joel Boé said he’d like to see an effort to give LSU stadium tax exempt status — which would require state legislative action.
“If it (Tiger Stadium) was made tax exempt, maybe the money that it would save the promoter would be enough to suffice, instead of having the lieutenant governor, the (Visitors Bureau) and so on supplementing it.”
Ernie Ballard, an LSU spokesman, said seeking legislation to create a special taxing district for the University is “something that’s been considered, but not pushed.”
He said recent legislation being pushed to create other similar taxing districts has been “hit or miss.”
Superfest announced its return to Baton Rouge last month, after negotiating a $600,000 subsidy paid for in equal parts by the State Tourism Office which is under the lieutenant governor, the Visitors Bureau and a tourism grant from British Petroleum allocated to the city-parish.
In its first year, Superfest organizers asked for $900,000 in state and local funds to subsidize the festival.
The same funding was expected for the 2011 concert, but in December the Metro Council voted to defund its $300,000 portion, mostly because taxpayer funds had no accountability tied to their use.
Boé, who served on a committee that agreed to use the BP funds to subsidize the concert, said he would support a five-year deal to continue to subsidize the concert.
“But after that, which would be their eighth performance, they’d be standing on their own,” he said. “Having an event such as this, some sort of subsidy is warranted, but not for an extended period of time.”
He also said that public subsidies should require Superfest organizers to agree to performance benchmarks and “some level of transparency in their books.”
“The days of writing them a $300,000 check with no strings attached are over,” he said.
Superfest, which has already featured some of the biggest names in country music, such as Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift, is scheduled for May 26 and May 27 next year.
Concert producer-organizer Quint Davis has said he expects to announce the concert performers in October, and tickets will go on sale in November.