Seattle Clubs Get Break

The Seattle music scene is known for its historical ties to artists including Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and Mayor Greg Nickels wants to keep it that way.

Nickels has proposed an exemption to an existing 5 percent admissions tax at Seattle clubs that he claims will give new life to the live music biz.

“Seattle’s musicians are part of Seattle’s identity – they help give our city its soul,” the mayor said in a statement. “Live music performances bring us together and play a large role in our lives, and this incentive will ensure our musicians have more venues to share their creativity and spirit.”

To be eligible for the tax break, a venue must have a capacity of less than 1,000, host live music three times per week, hire an average of 16 musicians per week and have committed no more than three violations of health, noise, licensing, tax or permit laws in the calendar year.

Along with the exemption, the mayor’s plan includes the establishment of a venue assistance program under the Office of Film and Music and a guide that details steps to operating a successful venue in Seattle and resources available for club owners.

“Our venue assistance program will let the community know that we are a city that encourages more live music venues to open and actively supports more performance opportunities for musicians,” program director James Keblas said.

Nearly 65 venues in the city are expected to take advantage of the admissions tax exemption, according to the statement, which could reportedly cut city revenues by $300,000 annually.

However, a 2004 economic impact study of the Seattle music industry showed that a vibrant Seattle music scene more than offsets such a loss. At that point, the city’s music industry brought in $1.3 billion annually, supporting more than 2,600 businesses and nearly 8,700 jobs.

If passed, the proposal will certainly signal an attitude shift toward club owners, who’ve battled strict regulation proposals in recent years following a series of shootings and other violence in and around venues.

Last year, city council members proposed a licensing package aimed at reducing litter, noise, violence and drug use that venue owners fiercely opposed, as it forced them to obtain licenses that could then be revoked for a single offending incident. Nickels eventually vetoed the package, claiming the legislation “failed to take meaningful action on nightclub licensing and promoting public safety.”

Nickels’ nightclub proposal heads to the city council for review along with his 2009-2010 budget Sept. 29.