Music Venues Scramble for $16 Billion in Federal Pandemic Help

When the pandemic compelled Crowbar, a music membership in Tampa, Fla., to close down final yr, Tom DeGeorge, its main proprietor, took out greater than $200,000 in private loans to maintain the enterprise afloat, together with one utilizing its liquor license as collateral.

Greater than a yr later, the membership has reopened with a smattering of occasions at diminished capacities, however the enterprise nonetheless operates within the crimson, Mr. DeGeorge stated in an interview. So on Thursday, Crowbar was among the many hundreds of music venues, unbiased film theaters and different arts and leisure establishments attempting to use for a share of $16 billion in federal help.

“We misplaced a whole yr of live shows within the blink of an eye fixed, which was near $1 million in income,” Mr. DeGeorge stated. “That’s why we’d like this grant so badly.”

The help comes by the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, which was approved by Congress late final yr after months of lobbying by an advert hoc coalition of music venues and different teams that warned of the lack of a whole sector of the humanities financial system.

Like many others, Mr. DeGeorge spent hours on Thursday attempting to submit his software by the net portal arrange by the Small Enterprise Administration, which runs this system. However issues with the location led to confusion and frustration all through the day, as candidates reported being unable to register or have uploads blocked — an exasperating end result for companies which have spent so lengthy ready for assist. The administration stated Thursday afternoon on Twitter that it was conscious of a “technical subject” and was working to appropriate it.

For music venues specifically, the final yr has been a scramble to stay afloat, with the proprietors of native golf equipment operating crowdfunding campaigns, promoting T-shirts and racking their brains for any inventive method to elevate funds. For the vacations, the Subterranean membership in Chicago, for instance, agreed to position the names of patrons on its marquee for donations of $250 or extra.

“It’s been the busiest yr,” Robert Gomez of Subterranean stated in an interview. “Nevertheless it’s all been about, ‘The place am I going to get funding from?’”

As a result of the grants might be awarded on a “first-in, first-out” foundation, these looking for cash are in a race for the cash: As soon as the $16 billion is depleted, these left within the queue might be turned away empty-handed.

As has occurred with different aid applications run by the company — most notably, the Paycheck Safety Program, a $746 billion help effort — the opening of the shuttered venue program was riddled with complexity and confusion.

The company posted a 58-page information for candidates late Wednesday night time, then shortly took it offline. A revised model of the information was posted simply minutes earlier than the portal opened on Thursday. (An company spokeswoman stated the information needed to be up to date to mirror “some last-minute system adjustments.”)

And fewer than two hours earlier than the company started accepting functions, its inspector common sent out an alert warning of “severe issues” with this system’s waste and fraud controls. The Small Enterprise Administration’s present audit plan “exposes billions of {dollars} to potential misuse of funds,” the inspector common wrote in a report. Then many anxious venue operators had bother getting their functions in.

Profitable candidates will obtain a grant equal to 45 p.c of their gross earned income from 2019, as much as $10 million. People who misplaced 90 p.c of their income (in comparison with the prior yr) after the coronavirus pandemic took maintain can have a 14-day precedence window for receiving the cash, adopted by one other 14-day interval for people who misplaced 70 p.c or extra. If any funds stay after that, they may then go to candidates who had a 25 p.c gross sales loss in a minimum of one quarter of 2020. Venues owned by giant companies, like Dwell Nation or AEG, usually are not eligible.

The applying course of is in depth, with detailed questions on venues’ budgets, workers and tools.

“They wish to be sure to’re not simply organising a piano within the nook of an Italian restaurant and calling your self a music venue,” stated Blayne Tucker, a lawyer for a number of music areas in Texas.

Even with the grants, music venues could also be dealing with many dry months earlier than touring and reside occasions return at something like prepandemic ranges. Regardless of the encouraging progress of vaccinations, the various reopening plans of state and native governments, and preparation plans by touring artists, will seemingly imply that the calendar of occasions will stay mild into the summer time or fall, promoters and expertise brokers stated.

The grant program additionally gives assist for Broadway theaters, performing arts facilities and even zoos, which share lots of the similar financial struggles.

The Pablo Heart on the Confluence, in Eau Claire, Wis., for instance, was capable of elevate about $1 million from donations and grants throughout the pandemic, but remains to be $1.2 million brief on its annual mounted working bills, stated Jason Jon Anderson, its govt director.

“By the point we open once more, October 2021 on the earliest, we can have been shuttered longer than we had been open,” he added. (The middle opened in 2018, at a value of $60 million.)

The hundreds of small golf equipment that dot the nationwide live performance map lack entry to main donors and, in lots of circumstances, have been surviving on fumes for months.

Stephen Chilton, the proprietor of the 300-capacity Insurgent Lounge in Phoenix, stated he had taken out “a number of hundred thousand” in loans to maintain the membership afloat. In October, it reopened with a pop-up espresso store inside, and the membership hosts some occasions, like trivia contests and open mic reveals.

“We’re shedding quite a bit lower than we have been shedding after we have been fully closed,” Mr. Chilton stated, “nevertheless it’s not making up for the misplaced income from doing occasions.”

The Insurgent Lounge hopes {that a} grant will assist it survive till it could actually convey again a full complement of live shows. And if its software shouldn’t be accepted?

“There isn’t any Plan B,” Mr. Chilton stated.

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