Congress establishes $15 billion for live venue operators and more
While the big push for the Save Our Stages Act to be included in the COVID-19 relief bill was successful, some local venue owners still don’t see how it will keep their heads above water.
The Save Our Stages Act establishes a $15 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers, talent representatives, independent movie theaters, museums and other cultural institutions.
Each recipient is eligible for a grant no greater than 45% of gross revenue from 2019 or $12 million, whichever is less.
Grant funding may be used for payroll and benefits, rent, utilities, mortgage interest payments, interest payments, insurance, personal protection equipment, existing loans, payments to 1099 employees, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses.
The National Independent Venue Association — a group of more than 3,000 independent venues in all 50 states — banded together to ask Congress for targeted legislation to help them survive, citing that independent venues were the first to close and will likely be the last to open, according to the Save Our Stages website, saveourstages.com.
“We’re thrilled about it,” Palmer Jackson, the executive chairman for The Granada, told the News-Press. “It will help us, and another round of PPP will help us. But will it make us whole? Absolutely not.”
He said The Granada has had “severe economic consequences” and that he hopes to be able to recover from it. Mr. Jackson added that the situation is even more dire for for-profit venues such as SOhO Restaurant & Music Club.
“For nonprofits who are suffering, we have the capability to raise money,” he said. “We can go ask people to help, and people are giving us money.”
As a result, Mr. Jackson said he and his rock band are planning to do a show with the Lobero Theatre to raise money for SOhO.
The Save Our Stages Act will allow independent venues, Broadway theaters, museums, talent agencies and managers to apply for grants through the Small Business Administration for six months of financial relief. Grant funding may be used for expenses incurred between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021.
In addition, a recipient is eligible for a supplemental grant equal to half of the initial grant if the venue is still experiencing 80% or greater revenue loss on Dec. 1, 2020.
NIVA stated on its website that the Payroll Protection Program is not a viable solution for the industry, citing the following: It penalizes companies with many part-time employees; the 60/40 requirement to obtain forgiveness doesn’t work due to high overhead; payroll is not the only, nor the biggest expense; reopening likely isn’t expected until herd immunity is achieved; forgiveness is crucial with negative cash flow; and the Opportunity Zone Requirement penalizes industries that foster economic growth.
“We’re grateful, but in terms of the issue on a national level, no,” Lobero Theatre Executive Director David Asbell told the News-Press. “It’s not even close to enough. It’s a drop in the bucket. This is a far cry for what’s really needed to keep the performing arts venues around long enough until the pandemic is in the rear view mirror.”
He said that the Lobero is fortunate to have past donors continuing to support it, but not every venue is so lucky.
If Mr. Asbell and his theater receive funds from the Save Our Stages Act, he said they will go toward hiring crew back and putting things back together to prepare for operations again, but he doesn’t anticipate reopening until spring or early summer.
“The performing arts bring a lot of solace, joy, meaning and a way to express yourself to our society and it’s a shame that it’s not given more credence,” Mr. Asbell said. “The fact that the first round, the CARES Act, was in March, and here it is, Dec. 21, when they approved the second — that’s disappointing.”
He said the worst part of it all is the hardship on the personal level, all across the board, “for every industry, restaurant, everything that’s been forced to shut down through no fault of their own.”
“Two-thirds of our staff, their life was tremendously disrupted,” Mr. Asbell said. “The deal is that people got furloughed and the hardship they feel … we want to be here for the community. We want to provide quality performing arts entertainment.”
David Corwin, the president of Metropolitan Theatres, said that while he and his staff don’t know all the details, he believes that conceptually, “It’s going to be very helpful.”
“It’s a huge and necessary grant for our industry,” he told the News-Press. “Unfortunately, things got so bad that we finally got the attention of people in D.C., but it’s much-needed assistance for the majority of our industry to help us through this really dark period.”
Mr. Corwin said that with revenue down by 98%, any grant money will likely go toward everything across the board, from rent to payroll.
Metropolitan Theatres owns movie theaters in Santa Barbara and Goleta. Only two of his company’s movie theaters remain open, one in Utah and one in Idaho.
“We’re a business that’s open 365 days a year, and I couldn’t even tell you in reading about its history the last time it was closed through all kinds of world events,” the president said. “It’s always been open. It’s just completely unforeseeable to have this long of a period of time without any revenue.”
He added that while “there are a lot of questions about the direction of the future of the business, those questions can’t be answered right now,” and he looks forward to some of the content being released in 2021 and 2022 that was delayed from 2020.
“We’re confident that there’s going to be a good demand for the theater experience. People have obviously been staying close to home for a long time and they’re tired of watching screens at home,” Mr. Corwin said. “We’ve been in Santa Barbara since 1950, so that’s certainly the most important market in which we operate. We’re glad to have some tools to help us through this.”