Cook County commissioners will have the final say before granting tax breaks for big-ticket events such as Lollapalooza under a measure passed Wednesday in response to a Chicago Sun-Times report last year.
Yanking some authority from County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the measure means commissioners will now vote on any amusement tax exemption in which the county would lose $150,000 or more. In the past, Preckwinkle’s revenue director decided whether non-profits qualified for the break.
The change comes months after the Sun-Times reported the city and county have been granting amusement tax exemptions for the highly lucrative Lollapalooza music festival in Grant Park for the last seven years. In 2011, that meant promoters saved $1 million in taxes at the event.
The arrangement cost the county $350,000 in amusement tax revenues last year.
Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who championed the new measure, said she was a member of the Parkways foundation when Lollapalooza’s organizers originally sought the tax abatement. That was at a time, she said, when “it wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion that you could get people down to Grant Park.”
Today, it’s clearly a success, she said.
“I think it’s been proven — I think it’s a great success story of when government works together with the private sector to come up with cultural entrepreneurship I think it’s a success that no longer needs government assistance to move forward,” Gainer said before the board vote Wednesday.
There was no opposition to the measure; Commissioner John Fritchey voted “present.”
But whether there’s a will to deny Lollapalooza an exemption remains to be seen.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he would ask the City Council to appoint a “third-party, independent” negotiator to broker talks with Lollapalooza and determine whether to eliminate the music festival’s multi-million dollar amusement tax exemption.
The hands-off stance is necessitated by the involvement of Emanuel’s brother, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel. Ari Emanuel is the CEO of William Morris Endeavor, which co-owns Lollapalooza.