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Gorge postponements could take financial toll on Grant County

The hundreds of thousands of concertgoers who make the pilgrimage to the Grant County venue also represent a notable chunk of the county's tourism revenue and sales.

GRANT COUNTY, Wash. — As concerts and music festivals at the Gorge Amphitheater get pushed back to 2021 amidst the coronavirus pandemic, leaders in Grant County fear the county's tax revenues could take a noticeable hit.

The popular outdoor music venue, famously known for its picturesque views of the Columbia River, has traditionally played host to popular music festivals and artists from across the world.

The hundreds of thousands of concertgoers who make the pilgrimage to the Grant County venue also represent a notable chunk of the county's tourism revenue and sales tax during the summer months.

"We were poised to have probably the best year we've ever had," said Bill Burke, the county's tourism marketing director, of the 2020 summer lineup. "The Gorge is very important because it's a major draw into the county."

However, fears surrounding COVID-19 have already caused some notable Gorge concerts and festivals to postpone to 2021. Notably, the popular Dave Matthews Band weekend concert that was slated for Labor Day weekend has been pushed back to next year. Other postponed 2020 concerts include Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, and Phish.

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As of Wednesday, though, several other 2020 Gorge concerts remained scheduled, including the popular three-day Watershed country music festival set for late July.

Live Nation, the company that promotes Gorge events, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The postponement of some of the 2020 shows is already creating some concerns for county leaders, though.

"Grant County will be impacted greatly by the loss of a season or portion at the Gorge," said county treasurer Darryl Pheasant in an email to KREM. "The admission tax loss could be over 1.3 million dollars," he wrote.

Pheasant added that the county also receives a lot of sales tax from the concert season as well.

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According to a 2014 Associated Press story, a study created by the Gorge's owners found that nearly 400,000 people attended concerts at the amphitheater in 2013. That generated $4.6 million in state and local taxes, according to the study from Live Nation Northwest.

Additionally, the venue employs about 1,500 people each concert weekend, the report said.

"As an employer, [the Gorge] provided a lot of part time work for many local students and young adults as well," Pheasant told KREM.

A lack of taxes collected from local hotels and Gorge campgrounds could also significantly hamper the county's tourism budget in 2020, leaders said.

"The Gorge can represent 30 percent of the taxes we raise to fund tourism activities and tourism promotion in Grant County," said Burke. "It can be monstrous."

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Burke added that the Gorge had been drawing in solid crowds in recent years and that the 2020 lineup was looking as promising as ever.

"If COVID-19 had not happened, we probably would have set all kinds of attendance records at the Gorge this year," he said.

Burke and his colleagues said they were hoping to find a silver lining among the unfortunate news surrounding coronavirus-related postponements, however. With Washington residents potentially more reluctant to fly this year, Burke argued that the state was poised to benefit "in the long run" with people spending vacation dollars closer to home.

"We want to be first in their minds when all of the sudden they can't travel and have fun," Burke said of would-be tourists who may not be eager to fly to vacations but are still eager to spend money on a domestic vacation.

On Friday, Burke said the county was launching a new TV ad promoting Grant County's tourism industry that was set to air in both the Seattle and Spokane markets.

"When the all clear is given, we're going to be first on their list," he said.