An internationally known band that headlined a two-day concert at Bader Field last year has told one national media outlet that Atlantic City wasn't all it was cracked up to be, leaving little hope the act would return in the future.
Metallica frontman James Hetfield made the comments centered on hotel costs to Rolling Stone magazine earlier this month as the metal band moved its Orion Music + More festival to Detroit. Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford said the criticism is legitimate and called on the state and casino properties to work together to create an environment that will attract major outdoor concerts to Bader Field in the future.
"I thought Atlantic City was going to be a lot better than it was," Hetfield told Rolling Stone earlier this month of the concert that drew nearly 24,000 people during two days, according to box office reports. "There was some gouging going on in hotels, ripping people off, crap like that. But it's a gambling town, and it's got a reputation for that. We're trying to make this affordable for people so that wasn't a great thing."
Many Atlantic City casino hotels run $100 or less midweek, but prices can rise as high as $450 or more for basic rooms on Saturday nights in the summer.
Langford said high casino hotel costs are a problem, and there should be more cooperation to accommodate tourists and events.
Councilman At-Large George Tibbitt, however, disagreed. He said any band looking to do a show in Atlantic City should know hotel rates are higher in a shore town in the summer.
"It's definitely not price gouging. You're looking at a depressed area like Detroit over a casino town on a weekend. Of course the rates are going to be higher," Tibbitt said. "You always want to do whatever you can to get people out here, but it's unreasonable to think you can get cheap rates here in the summertime."
Langford pointed out other issues hindering progress at the city-owned site that falls within the boundaries of the state-run Tourism District.
"Certainly, the city can't afford to allow the exorbitant cost of police coverage for these types of events to price us out of the market," Langford said. "In the same vein, the state must grant some kind of relief with respect to the onerous luxury tax."
Two years ago, officials heralded Bader Field's first attempt as a temporary music venue as a success after thousands flocked to the 143-acre former municipal airport for the Dave Matthew Band Caravan festival.
Other major concerts headlined by jam band Phish and Metallica followed. Yet events of that size - drawing tens of thousands a day - haven't been seen in a year, due, in part, to an issue involving the city's 9 percent luxury tax on entertainment purchases.
Promoter Starr Hill Presents, which was behind Dave Matthews, Phish and Metallica, scrapped plans for weekend-long country and electronic dance festivals last year after the state Department of Treasury would no longer waive the luxury tax that was forgiven for previous events because of difficulty applying the law.
Last year, Starr Hill also paid the city more than $296,648 to offset the costs of additional emergency personnel, site preparation and other expenses for Metallica and Phish.
Bill Quinn, a spokesman for the Department of Treasury, said there are no waiver applications pending, and it does not appear any reform to the luxury tax is on the horizon.
"I'm not aware of any proposals at the moment to change the law," he said.
Still, most parties have paid the luxury tax since it was enacted 60 years ago, officials have said.
Not all have been disheartened by entertainment experiences in Atlantic City. Last week, a free outdoor concert headlined by Jimmy Buffett outside of the Margaritaville complex at Resorts Casino Hotel drew an estimated 50,000.
Some visitors to that show said the suggestion that the city gouges tourists was way off base.
Mike Cintineo, 25, of Ramsey, Bergen County, spent the weekend in Atlantic City to celebrate younger brother Harry's 21st birthday.
"You pay a local premium, but with this kind of atmosphere, it's to be expected," he said. "And then you have this great free concert."
Rich Pescatore, of Long Island, strolled the Boardwalk on a day trip last weekend to the resort with co-workers. He said he doubts the price of parking or lodging would keep away many visitors.
"Well, just look at the crowds today. It's packed," he said.
Staff Writer Michael Miller contributed to this report.
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