Philadelphia Freebies

Everyone is familiar with the tale of Robin Hood, who took from the rich to give to the poor.

In a similar twist, city officials in Philadelphia are under fire for allegedly giving away thousands of concert tickets to shows at the Robin Hood Dell East amphitheatre, a city-owned and operated venue, resulting in an estimated loss of nearly $500,000 in potential ticket sales.

The Robin Hood Dell East receives about $350,000 in government subsidies and is run by Philadelphia’s Recreation Department. Yet, for a July 27th concert at the shed, nearly 3,500 of 3,900 available tickets were reportedly freebies.

The lost revenue comes at a time when Philadelphia is operating under a tight budget that has led to cuts in recreation centers, fire companies and library hours.

“These numbers are shameful,” said Zack Stalberg, executive director of the Committee of Seventy, a city watchdog group. “It’s another game that insiders play. If you’re a citizen with a little bit of knowledge of how it works, you get to bilk the system.”

The ticket giveaways are justified by some as a means to provide access to the arts for city residents who otherwise could not afford to attend concerts and other events.

“I think there is some real benefit to the community when people are able to go and enjoy some music who would not be able to otherwise enjoy it,” said Joe Grace, a spokesman for Mayor John Street, whose office gives away hundreds of tickets each week.

Brenda Watson of Wilmington, Del., was among the few paying patrons last week when Russell Thompkins Jr. and The New Stylistics performed.

“I’m mad about that,” Watson said.

However, she did not necessarily think the practice should end.

“Find someone to get me a free ticket.”