Six Months After Congress Passed COVID Relief, Closed Sites Still Waiting For Payments

Jack Antonoff of Bleachers performs at the Fox Theater in Boulder on March 7, 2015 (Seth McConnell / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

As part of the coronavirus relief program adopted in December 2020, Congress allocated $ 16 billion in grants to concert halls and theaters that were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, or SVOG, was intended to respond to calls from artists and business owners nationwide, who have warned that without government help, live shows may no longer exist a once the pandemic is over. But SVOG grant applications only opened in April 2021.

And six months later, 9 out of 10 closed sites in the country that requested SVOG funds through the Small Business Administration had not received a check.

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“We are convinced that there is no reason why we should not be approved for this, so it is hopefully just ‘when’ and not ‘if’,” said Geoff Brent, owner. of The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs. The concert hall applied for a grant months ago, Brent said.

According to Small Business Administration Data, 14,416 US sites requested SVOG relief funds, for a total of $ 11.6 billion in funding requests. As of June 21, only 1,445 grants had been awarded, valued at $ 833 million.

Money is starting to flow to the sites

Under the SVOG program, companies could apply for grants equivalent to 45% of their gross earned income for 2019, up to $ 10 million. Among the winners to date are 27 Colorado entertainment venues and companies with grants totaling $ 17.89 million as of June 21.

The SBA started handing out awards around June 14, SBA regional communications director Christopher Chavez said in an email. So far, most of the awards have gone to Tier 1 businesses and organizations – those that experienced a 90% or more loss in revenue between April and December 2020 – with a handful of Tier 2 winners, this which equates to a loss of income of 70% or more, says Chavez.

“From this week we will also start awarding below level 3,” Chavez wrote on June 28. This level correlates with a loss of income of 25% or more.

“The agency is processing these award requests as quickly as possible,” he added.

Some of Colorado’s biggest checks went to Picture Show Entertainment, a chain of movie theaters based in Grand Junction and Colorado Springs ($ 9.17 million); Clearly Confused Intertainment, which operates The Dinner Detective: Murder Mystery Dinner Show in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins ($ 2.46 million); and Madison House, a Boulder-based music management and reservation company ($ 1.81 million).

Geoff brent
Geoff Brent, owner of The Black Sheep in Colorado Springs, is pictured with dog Yoda. Brent said the support of community members on social media has helped the place survive the pandemic. (Photo by Julie Reed)

The Black Sheep isn’t the only Colorado music company still waiting for federal money. Z2 Entertainment, which operates three concert halls, is eagerly awaiting relief, said David Weingarden, vice president of concerts and events for the company.

“We’re still stuck in the ‘under review’ phase with no end in sight,” Weingarden said. “Everything is still very late, and we are all getting very anxious, and it’s difficult. It is a difficult time at the moment.

Z2 Entertainment’s three locations – the Boulder Theater and Fox Theater in Boulder, and the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins – opened at full capacity on June 1, Weingarden said. Although tickets are selling well, this income is put aside until the shows actually take place. And the company’s lack of cash makes it difficult to increase staff to meet demand.

“We’re not like the local hardware store where you can just turn the open neon on and off,” Weingarden said.

Chris Zacher chairs the Colorado chapter of the National Independent Venue Association, which lobbied Congress throughout the pandemic for targeted relief funds at the sites. Zacher is also the CEO and executive director of the Levitt Pavilion in Denver, which recently learned he had received SVOG funding, he said. As of June 28, the price was not yet listed on the SBA website.

Even with most of the coronavirus restrictions now lifted – and many people are eager to return to theaters and dance floors – venues will need a boost to restart, Zacher said.

“Without the SVOG money, it has become extremely difficult, especially for small independent clubs, to be able to make deposits before the artists show up in their hall,” he said. Typically, “you pay between 10% and 50% of their fees about 30 to 60 days before they come to your site. “

Colorado theaters only recently started booking domestic artists who live out-of-state, Zacher said, as many artists’ US tours were on hold until California lifts COVID restrictions. Shows with smaller local artists don’t generate as much income.

Then there are the upfront costs like sound systems, which Zacher said many smaller sites don’t own but rent.

“There’s a little bit of a lag in this industry between, you know, openness and being able to start producing shows at the level we were doing before,” he said. “Typically, it takes three to 12 months to book, plan and run a show. So these deadlines are a bit tight, which is quite stressful for a rusty industry, which has not been open for a long time. “

The black sheep
The Black Sheep, a concert hall in Colorado Springs, was still awaiting federal aid as of June 28, 2021. (Photo by Jacki Vitteta)

State program helps some sites stay afloat

For Brent, the struggles of the past year and a half have shed new light on live music.

“I never would have thought, ‘Oh, the shows can go out at any time,'” said Brent. “It can happen, it turns out.”

With the support of loyal patrons and community members, Brent credits a state-issued $ 50,000 Colorado Arts Relief Grant for helping The Black Sheep get through the pandemic.

The grants program, administered by the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, provided $ 1.35 million in grants to individual artists and crew members, and $ 6 million to 128 arts, culture and entertainment organizations. Entertainment. State lawmakers set the agenda by law that happened during a December special session of the Colorado General Assembly.

Z2 Entertainment received a state grant of $ 200,000, which Weingarden said paid part of the company’s property tax bill.

Besides purchasing tickets to a show, fans of live shows should support their favorite venues by calling their representatives in Congress and asking them to lobby the Small Business Administration, Weingarden said. He noted that ticket sales for future shows are “unearned income” early on, if a venue budgets responsibly.

“Let’s just say we get $ 1,000 today for a show that will take place in October,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to make this money until October… You don’t really want to touch that money, and then if you have a profit, that money will go into your bank account or your balance sheet.”

As long as the SVOG backlog soon goes away, Zacher has hope for the future, based on conversations he’s had with other independent site owners.

“At first I thought this pandemic probably set the industry back a few years,” he said. “But that’s not what we’re seeing. We’re seeing more attendees, more ticket sales, more venues (food and drink) sales. So we’re starting to see this kind of machine starting to make money on top of what we’re making in 2019, and that’s general for all the site owners I’ve spoken to.

Weingarden took a more cautious tone.

“The supply of shows that are out there is quite large,” he said. “So people are definitely buying tickets, which is great, but at some point we’re trying to figure out: how much disposable income do people have? “

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