Grumbling has come from some private sector venue owners who see the River Music Experience’s tax-exempt status and genesis as part of the taxpayer-funded Vision Iowa River Renaissance project as an unfair advantage.

“How many nonprofits do you know that own a liquor license and run a nightclub?” asked Terry Tilka, owner of the Rock Island Brewing Co. “The private sector got no state money, no Vision Iowa money.”

Some bands that used to play RIBCO have demanded higher booking fees after getting higher paydays from the RME’s Redstone Room, Tilka said.

“They’ve told us they need more money because the Redstone Room is going to pay them more. When that happens, I just say go ahead and play there,” he said. “I’ve never understood how you can start something with tax dollars and then change it from a museum to what it is now. Supporting the arts is wonderful, but I don’t see us getting a lot of funding or tax dollars.”

Tom Swanson, RME general manager, said he knows those concerns are out there, but pointed out that the River Music Experience’s mission goes far beyond that of a typical nightclub, bar or for-profit business.

“I don’t know of any bar or club that is doing the things, programming wise, that we do here,” he said. “I don’t know of any bar or club that gives financial aid to kids wanting to take music lessons or do a rock camp or help provide kids with instruments.”

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