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Young rejects hotel tax for Playhouse

Flat Rock Playhouse has sought support from city and county, making the case that it draws visitors. Flat Rock Playhouse has sought support from city and county, making the case that it draws visitors.

Henderson County Commissioner Larry Young, who also chairs the county Travel and Tourism agency, opposes adding a penny to the county's current 5 percent hotel tax.

Commissioner Mike Edney raised the idea on Tuesday during a budget work session when commissioners took up a request for support from the Flat Rock Playhouse. Some local leaders have been talking for several weeks about adding 1 cent to the hotel tax, and devoting the money to the Playhouse, which makes the claim that the professional theater generates millions of dollars worth of spending by drawing people to the Playhouse in Flat Rock and to its new performance space in downtown Hendersonville. One cent would raise about $220,000 a year.
"I just don't think we need to do that for a specific entity, especially a private enterprise," Young told the Lightning this week. "I'm against that. Any room tax should go to Travel and Tourism and let them spend it."
"We give them grant money every year," he said of the grants T&T gives to tourism-related organizations. This year the agency gave the Playhouse $5,000.
Last year the non-profit theater company opened the Playhouse Downtown and this season it will stage 50 nights of shows in theater performances and the popular Music on the Rock series.
"Both with the county and the city, it's very straightforward," said Vincent Marini, producing director of the Playhouse. "Without that money our budget doesn't work."
State Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Hendersonville, has discussed the idea with Playhouse officials and with Edney.
"I told him I'd have to have a resolution from the county before we'd do it," Apodaca said. "I just think it's the right thing to do. That's the biggest draw we've got in the county week to week."
If an increase were to get support, it might do so narrowly. Young is a sure no vote, he said, "and I'm going to try to influence the rest of them not to." Commissioner Bill O'Connor this week denounced his colleagues for what he said was reckless overspending.
Young questioned the figure that the Playhouse generates $10 million in spending in the Hendersonville area.
"I'd like to see somebody prove that because most of the time I've been to Flat Rock Playhouse it's mostly been local people," he said.
The county increased the bed tax from 3 to 5 cents about two years ago, directing a half cent to operate the Heritage Museum. One cent raises about $220,000, meaning the 5-cent levy generates $1.2 million.
The Playhouse, which has always been self-sustaining through ticket sales and private fund raising, has over the past two years turned more to local government for support. It has struggled as the economic downturn has slashed ticket sales, and it has spent more on performances, bringing top-level Broadway talent to Flat Rock.
The Playhouse has requested $100,000 from the city of Hendersonville and $25,000 from the Village of Flat Rock. It asked for and received grants of those amounts last year from the two towns.