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Upstate theaters seek tax credit

Break touted as way to solidify Broadway ties

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
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Proctors CEO Philip Morris speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the state Capitol as state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Schenectady, look on.
Proctors CEO Philip Morris speaks at a press conference Wednesday at the state Capitol as state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Schenectady, look on.

— In Philip Morris’ mind’s eye, Broadway extends north far beyond the borough of Manhattan, and his colleagues in upstate New York feel the same way.

A coalition of upstate New York theaters had representatives at the state Capitol in Albany on Wednesday pushing their “Keep Broadway in New York” initiative, designed to encourage investment in live theater in the form of a tax credit.

Along with Proctors in Schenectady, there were eight other major theater venues at the morning news conference, including Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, the Forum Theatre in Binghamton and the Palace Theatre in Albany.

“Broadway is not just a street in New York, and it’s not just a theater in New York City,” said Proctors CEO Morris, who spearheaded Wednesday’s get-together. “It’s an industry with performances around the country and in every major city in America. In New York state, that includes Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, Albany, Binghamton and Elmira. Broadway is a big business for upstate New York.”

The proposal put forth by the group — a 30 percent tax credit for “qualified production costs” — is aimed at touring theater companies that plan on “teching” their shows, a process that can keep a troupe in one city for up to six or seven weeks.

“ ‘Teching’ is our in-house phrase for what happens when a Broadway show goes on the road and travels across America,” said Morris. “It’s the process of bringing together all the parts, the sets, the lights, the costumers, the performers, and making sure the production fits on the stage, that it works beautifully, and that it will then all fit on a truck and go to the next place.”

It’s a process that brings to the community an enormous economic benefit, according to Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who is sponsoring the bill in the state Assembly.

“Proctors has done so much for Schenectady and the entire area, so we know what this means in my district,” said Santabarbara. “It shouldn’t be underestimated what ‘teching’ can bring to the area. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and when ‘Ghost’ opened their national tour in Schenectady it brought in $750,000 in just the first week to the local economy. Other cities in upstate New York have seen this impact and they know what it means. It’s very important for us.”

Santabarbara and state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, who is chairwoman of the Senate Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, said they expect the bill to pass into law.

“It’s $5 million out of a $142 billion budget,” said Little. “It’s very important to us. We have a lot of support for the bill, and if we can’t get it in our budget, then we will do it legislatively. If we’re not giving them tax credits, then somebody else will and we can’t afford to lose business to other states like Rhode Island and Louisiana. Broadway is New York, and we need to keep their ‘tech’ work in New York state.”

Also at Wednesday’s event were representatives from The Broadway League as well as two major production companies, Scorpio Entertainment and NETworks Tours.

“When I started producing 25 years ago, there were no such things as tax credits,” said Scorpio Chairman Tom Viertel, who has produced shows such as “The Producers” and “Hairspray.” “We produced tours that started in New Jersey because everyone could go home and sleep in their own beds at night.

“But ‘teching’ is a tremendous economic driver. It brings great activity to the place where it’s located. Providence has had tour after tour the last three years because of their tax credit, and we think we should get one in New York, too. It makes sense for us, and it’s also a source of pride for us to keep it in New York.”

“My hope is that in five years from now, with this tax credit in place, all the ‘Thruway’ theaters in New York will be opening a Broadway show on the same week,” said Morris, “and we’ll be able to make a real claim that Broadway is all of New York’s product, not just New York City.”

 
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