House plan offers tax credits for local theaters | New

BOSTON — Performing arts and smaller theaters that have been hit financially during the pandemic could get state aid to offset losses and attract new productions.

A $10.4 billion economic development bill, which was approved by the state House of Representatives on Thursday, includes a provision to create a $5 million grant program for local theaters . The money could be used to offset costs associated with payroll, transportation and production.

One of the bill’s chief architects, Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, said the aid recognizes the “essential role” that live theaters “play in the cultural enrichment of our communities and the added tourism and the positive economic impact they have”.

He said the funds will help attract pre-Broadway productions to perform at local theaters as they prepare to embark on national tours.

“Programs like this in other states have been very successful and have led to significant positive economic development,” Parisella said.

Under the proposal, the National Travel and Tourism Board would administer the plan and provide criteria for qualifying for the credits.

The credits would be available to live theater companies “doing business with a Massachusetts theater venue, theater company, theater presenter, or producer.”

The House bill approved Thursday also includes $3 million in funding to provide grants to small local theaters affected by the pandemic.

To be eligible for a grant, theaters must have box office sales of $15,000 or less in 2019 and demonstrate that ticket sales have declined by 40% or more in subsequent years. Eligible businesses will receive $15,000 for two screens and $10,000 for each additional screen, depending on the plan.

Both proposals must make it into a final version of the bill, which must be approved by the state Senate before landing on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk for consideration.

The state’s tourism and entertainment industries have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic and government restrictions that closed many businesses in early 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Collectively, the losses totaled tens of millions of dollars, according to industry figures.

While the state offers a tax credit for film production studios — which distributes tens of millions of dollars a year to Hollywood productions — there is no such tax credit for community theaters.

Live theater operators welcome this assistance as they struggle to recover from the lingering effects of the pandemic and attract more live productions and patrons.

“That would be a huge help,” said J. Casey Soward, executive director of the Cabot Theater in Beverly. “Coming out of the pandemic, we were able to recover a good part of our audience, but there is still a large group of people who have not returned to the theater.”

Providing tax credits to touring productions will help attract bigger shows to the state, which will benefit Cabot and other local theaters desperately trying to fill seats, he said.

Unlike the movie tax credit, which has been criticized as a giveaway to Hollywood film production studios, Soward said the live theater tax credit would have an outsized impact on the local economy. He said the plan would give preference to smaller theaters outside of Boston, which don’t typically attract big shows.

“There are so many venues outside of Boston that could really benefit from having some of these productions come in for a few weeks,” Soward said. “What this does for our downtowns, economically, is huge. This means millions of dollars are being spent on local restaurants and stores, which are also still struggling.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.


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