The Avalon Theatre is the oldest surviving movie house in Washington, D.C., and I am very lucky to live within an easy one-mile walk of the Art Deco-era building. Unfortunately, the Avalon's owners shut it down a few years ago because it competed with other theaters they owned in town. Our neighborhood rallied to save the building and the theater, this time as The Avalon Theatre Project--a non-profit community-based organization. The Avalon thrives today, beautifully restored and offering both mainstream and independent films.
My connection with the Avalon Theatre Project is only as a small donor to its early fundraising efforts and as a somewhat regular patron. Usually the Avalon has brought me only good things, but my most recent experience at the theater dragged me down into the devious mindset of many taxpayers. A few weeks ago I made the mistake of seeing a French film called "Kings and Queen" at the Avalon rather than taking in the summer blockbuster "Batman Begins" at the local multiplex. This Frankish fiasco was so execrable--not to mention mind-numbingly long--that I nearly walked over to the box office to demand my $9.50 back. I should have, because I received absolutely nothing of value in exchange for my payment to this non-profit.
But the problem of coming up with reasonable valuations of noncash contributions to charities persists in other areas because too many people are willing to miss the point of charitable deductions.
Historic facade easements are a good example. Preservation charities ask the owners of historic buildings to hand over legal rights to facades of their buildings. Because the owners can no longer make changes to those facades, their property values often decline. If that occurs, owners can claim a deduction equal to the reduced value of their property.