by Ned Oliver
Richmond CenterStage and its parent group ignited a minor furor in October when they revealed they owed $1.75 million in back real estate taxes and wanted the city to cover the tab.
Following a heated public hearing, City Council eventually consented to pay the bill. What was left unclear was whether the performing arts organization — which operates the Altria and Carpenter theaters — would begin covering its own real estate taxes.
As it turns out, that won’t be an issue because Richmond-area state lawmakers have CenterStage’s back. Both houses of the General Assembly passed legislation specifically tailored to exempt CenterStage from any real estate tax obligations.
The measures passed with virtually no opposition.
Outgoing Sen. John Watkins was the patron of the bill in the Senate, with the House version put forth by Delegates Manoli Loupassi and Jennifer McClellan.
“I don’t think that it was ever even considered that the Altria Theater would be taxed as a moneymaking enterprise,” Loupassi says.
The Richmond Economic Development Authority owns the Altria Theater and the city owns the Carpenter Center — neither of which is an entity that normally would be subject to real estate taxes. But the Richmond Performing Arts Center, a for-profit entity, has taken out long-term leases on both buildings, which makes them taxable.
The Richmond Performing Arts Center was created because CenterStage, a nonprofit, was prohibited from taking advantage of federal historic tax credits, which were used to finance the renovations of both theaters.
McClellan says the legislation was written specifically for Richmond. “CenterStage has proven a tremendous benefit to the area,” she says, “and I think we should help them where we can.”
Jim Hester, the city tax assessor, says he’s unaware of any other properties that would be affected by the proposed legislation.