Sean Watterson's Happy Dog has live music most nights and is one of the Gordon Square Arts District's most popular spots. But an, until recently, loosely enforced admissions tax has him worried about his club and others like it.
"[It] is either coming out of the club's pocket or the musician's pocket," he says.
Watterson, a lawyer, is part of the Cleveland Music Club Coalition, a group of six small music venues that are seeking an exemption from the city's 8 percent admissions tax. At press time, city councilman Joe Cimperman was set to introduce an ordinance that would exempt clubs with a capacity of less than 1,000.
Earlier this year, Cindy Barber, co-owner of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, was hit with a roughly $400,000 bill from the city for back taxes, penalties and interest owed for 2007 through 2010.
"I don't think [the city] understands the economics of running a small club," says Barber, whose spot anchors the Waterloo Arts & Entertainment District.
Barber is currently appealing the back taxes and seeking a settlement. The city doesn't comment on ongoing tax investigations, but Mayor Frank Jackson's chief of communications Maureen Harper said in an email the $15.9 million in admissions taxes collected in 2010 paid off city debt and funded municipal operations.
The Cleveland Orchestra doesn't have to pay the tax because of its nonprofit status. Watterson hopes the city will ultimately exempt small music clubs as well because of their value to the neighborhoods they call home.
"We see value in ourselves just like we see value in the Cleveland Orchestra," he says.