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Chesterfield Supervisors Could Derail Arts Center

Revenue from the tax, also called the lodging tax, is expected to generate $15 million toward the project. This money is desperately needed to jumpstart fund raising for the arts center since Virginia lawmakers recently refused to cough up state funds.

"The key is how Renny decides to vote," says Midlothian Supervisor Ed Barber, who supports the tax increase. "If I were a betting man today, I doubt that it would pass."

According to a new state law, which went into effect July 1, any lodging tax increase must be approved by all four jurisdictions: the city of Richmond and the counties of Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield.

Richmond, Henrico and Hanover are expected to approve the tax with relative ease, local politicians and insiders say, but Chesterfield is split 2-2. Supervisors Barber and Art Warren are expected vote for the tax; Board Chairman Kelly E. Miller and Supervisor Dickie King are against it.

That leaves Humphrey.

Reached Monday, Humphrey said she was undecided but is leaning toward abstaining. This would deadlock the vote and kill the tax hike.

Insiders say that Humphrey is motivated to side with fellow Republicans Miller and King. She recently got into hot water with her party by giving $1,000 to two candidates running against King, and is said to want out of the GOP doghouse.

But Humphrey says her decision isn't about appeasing the GOP. Most hoteliers in her jurisdiction are against the tax increase, she says, and they say a downtown arts facility won't help their businesses. "The Chesterfield hospitality industry — that's what's important to me," Humphrey says.

Brad Armstrong, president and chief executive of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, says the group hopes to convince their opponents that the arts center, by making the new convention center more attractive, indeed helps hotel and motel operators located farther out in the county.

"We have lots of evidence in terms of the number of rooms taken from the conventions," Armstrong says.

King and Miller believe the hotel and motel operators in their districts are being taxed unfairly. King says hotel owners in his district balk at Armstrong's theory of compression — that big conventions downtown fill up hotel and motel rooms in the entire region, not just Richmond.

If the lodging tax is scuttled, expect a serious domino effect. The arts foundation has one year to raise $45.5 million in order to receive $15.8 million in tax revenue from the city's meals tax. Without the lodging-tax money, the group has to raise another $14 million to $15 million by July 1, 2005. — Scott Bass

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