Small clubs may have to pay hundreds of thousands in back taxes, due to changes in the county tax code.
As the Chicago Reader reports, the county held an administrative hearing on Monday morning to discuss their controversial proposal. Their current policy protects small venues (those under 750 capacity) by making them exempt from paying taxes on cover and ticket charges—as long as they host "live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performances." County officials want to redefine which establishments qualify, meaning that numerous Chicago clubs would owe hundreds of thousands in back taxes.
At yesterday's public meeting, county hearings officer Anita Richardson argued that only venues for "fine art" should be exempt. "Rap music, country music and rock 'n' roll"—and by extension, DJ sets—do not qualify as "fine art," she said during the hearing. Her implication is that the policy should only protect music venues meant for orchestras, symphonies, operas and the like, meaning rock clubs and dance clubs should be forced to pay up.
Attorneys for Chicago clubs Beauty Bar and Evil Olive maintain that these clubs are indeed culturally valuable enough to qualify for exemption. They were joined at the hearing by Cook County commissioner John Fritchey, who aims to drum up support for the small venues targeted by the tax code. "[This policy] harkens back to the days of the 1950s when rock 'n' roll wasn't considered music," he told the Chicago Reader. "No pun intended, but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex."
Fritchey hopes to amend the county's ordinance with the help of his colleagues on the Cook County Board. Otherwise each of these venues could owe approximately $200,000 in amusement taxes, said the attorneys from Beauty Bar and Evil Olive.