By James Sutcliffe
While the rest of the country has slowly recovered from the Great Recession, Camden has been stuck in time. But rather than work with area businesses to energize economic growth in the area, state lawmakers in Trenton are considering legislation that would dramatically undermine one of the most successful sectors of the city's economy.
It's no secret that Camden's economic struggles of the past few decades went from bad to worse after the recession hit in 2008. The situation has gotten so bad, with unemployment estimated at almost 20 percent, that the Census Bureau now considers Camden to be the most impoverished city in the United States. But despite that dire assessment, the building blocks of Camden's recovery can be seen along the waterfront.
Since opening in the 1995, the venue now known as the Susquehanna Bank Center (SBC) has become an integral component of the area's economy by drawing in a half-million annual visitors to Camden. SBC has also been a boon to local government and businesses.
Last year alone, SBC paid more than $600,000 to Camden police officers and Camden County Park Police for public-safety support during events. That is on top of more than $2 million paid to the city since 2009 in the form of payment in lieu of taxes. Add in the money visitors to the city spend on their own, and it's easy to see how crucial this facility is to any potential economic recovery in Camden.
But lawmakers in Trenton are considering putting the vitality of the SBC and our contributions to Camden and the surrounding areas at risk. Two bills that may be considered before year's end - S-875 and A-2258 - would interfere with our business practices in ways that would drive many events to other venues around the region, starving the Camden community of critical revenue.
The New Jersey Legislature is considering banning paperless and will-call ticketing for events at venues like ours. We use these ticketing methods to ensure that fans can buy good seats at the face-value price and get legitimate tickets. Outlawing these fan-friendly ticketing methods enables ticket brokers to drive prices way up and out of reach of many fans - especially in the Camden area - and beyond the price intended by the artist.
The proposed legislation would also require event presenters to disclose the number of tickets available for sale. While this may seem reasonable in theory, in practice it means ticket brokers would be better informed about how to buy out shows, create shortages, and drive up ticket prices on the resale market.
Artists, sports teams, and entertainers don't want their shows overrun by ticket brokers. If these laws go into effect, they will simply choose to perform at other venues in the region where their fans are protected. Pushing those events to other venues would be disastrous for the Camden community, which is dependent on the revenue they generate.
The contribution SBC makes to Camden goes beyond the $550,000 in revenue for the city in 2012. We also use the facility to host community events like an annual job fair, where more than 500 residents find seasonal employment during the concert season. Fewer events means less revenue and fewer jobs, striking a harsh blow to our community - harsher still because it would be delivered by the very leaders we look to for help in recovering.
The Camden community needs many things to help it climb out of the economic stagnation it has faced, but restrictive legislation from Trenton isn't one of them. Our lawmakers should focus on supporting our economic growth rather than putting it further at risk.