Wilmington’s $14,000 VIP seats at the amphitheater sat unused in 2021

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – When the City of Wilmington approved a policy to spend $14,000 of taxpayer dollars on lodges at the Live Oak Bank Pavilion, it also took steps to ensure that ‘no ticket is wasted by allowing all unused tickets to be resold. by the city manager.

These steps, however, proved futile as not all tickets were used by the city and they failed to resell a single ticket in 2021.

The tickets were purchased for the city to attract business and promote the city’s economic development.

This isn’t new, and other cities across the state are also buying seats at venues in their city, according to city staff.

The idea is for the city council or city staff to use the tickets for an explicit purpose of economic development. This could mean bringing business owners looking to move their businesses to Wilmington for shows, with the goal of showing them what Wilmington has to offer. These opportunities to showcase Wilmington are important to continue attracting new business, creating new jobs and bringing more revenue to the city.

However, neither the city council nor the staff had economic development opportunities that coincided with concerts and therefore had no use for the tickets.

According to City policy, these tickets should have been resold.

“If no appropriate economic development application is made for a specific event at a venue covered by this policy, tickets for such event shall be considered surplus, and the City Manager shall make such tickets available for resale anyway. appropriate, as permitted by all applicable state laws, according to the policy.

Why this did not happen is unclear; however, the City is working to ensure the policy is followed during the current season.

Councilor Luke Waddell was not a council member when the purchase was approved; however, he was the only board member to comment on the lost tickets. He said COVID-19 played a role in the city not using the seats.

“Last year business travel wasn’t really happening, was it. So a lot of economic development travel wasn’t really happening due to a lot of of the Delta variant – basically all of those tickets were unused So it’s, it’s hard to see, you know, it definitely looks like a giant piece of trash and, basically [it] is,” he said.

As COVID-19 played a role in travel limitations, around 90,000 people attended shows at the new park, many of which sold out.

Although he wasn’t involved in the original vote, Waddell took responsibility on behalf of the city and said the policy was being reviewed so it wouldn’t happen again.

“We absolutely dropped the ball at the city level, not having policies in place on how to handle unused tickets. There’s probably a myriad of reasons that I’m not sure of, but having something in place to sell those tickets and be able to get taxpayers’ money back. I can assure you that is being rectified, that is being looked at as we speak, and that they are putting those policies and procedures in place,” he said.

As for the future of VIP tickets, Waddell said that’s something he plans to discuss in future meetings.

“It will be interesting to discuss, if it will be viable in the years to come. And ultimately, whether or not this is really an efficient use of taxpayers’ money. Obviously looking at the first year we’ve done that I’d say no we’ll see what happens in 2022. But I can guarantee you that this will be a major talking point at future budget meetings for the budget of the company. fiscal year 2023,” Waddell says.

The city has confirmed that these procedures are under review.

“Staff are actively developing a better procedure to implement Policy 502 regarding the administration and resale of unused tickets. The city remains committed to advancing economic development, and Riverfront Park has established itself as a key asset to Wilmington’s cultural vibrancy, which will contribute to job creation, job retention and economic diversification,” according to the city.

As for his thoughts on purchasing in general, Waddell said that with the city attracting bigger companies, they also compete with bigger cities vying for those jobs and investments.

“Anything we can do to reinforce who we are, as we continue to master who we are, by bringing in different companies, we’re kind of leveling against who we’re going, to bring in companies like that. So anything we can do to stand out and stand out is a good thing from an economic development perspective,” he said.

Reviews surrounding the purchase

Initially, the City had drafted a policy that would have allowed Council to use the tickets free of charge and offer them to City staff as well as the general public for various purposes; however, after facing criticism from some residents, the City changed the policy. The amendment required any Council member to pay for their own ticket and limited uses to strictly economic development purposes.

Despite criticism from residents, some Council members took aim at the media calling the coverage of the resolution inaccurate.

Councilman Neil Anderson shared his thoughts on media coverage. He said he felt the city let the media dictate city policy and voted against the changed policy.

It is true that the city received some criticism from the townspeople as a result of the report.

According to the minutes of the meeting, a resident said, “She read the WHQR article and whether it’s a policy or a proposal, it sets off some red flags, particularly in the areas of ethics, justice and equity. She wrote that she found it troubling that taxpayers’ money was being allocated to this without citizen input.

Another said: ‘He didn’t like the idea of ​​using taxpayers’ money to buy concert tickets.’

Mayor Pro Tem Margret Haynes also challenged the media saying, “It’s a shame we’ve come to this here. And, you know, I hope the press can take the opportunity and report it more appropriately.

Anderson and Haynes went on to say that the Council was very “thrifty”, and Haynes wanted to clarify that the City would not be using taxpayers’ money, but revenue generated by the venue itself.

However, this is taxpayer dollars and park revenues go into the city’s general fund.

Another point Anderson made was that it was essentially a pilot program that could be revisited if it didn’t work.

“If we find that we don’t use it, that we don’t need it, next year is a different year and we can change it,” he said.

It’s unclear if he plans to come up with any changes this year.

WECT reached out to all Council members for their thoughts and an interview on wasting those tickets, only Waddell responded.

Note: Councilman Neil Anderson apparently briefly used the box seats for a show, however, he and his guests bought their own tickets, according to Port City Dailyand his guests found themselves seated in the seats they had purchased.

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Corina C. Butler