Federal help still weeks away for some venues needing cash to continue

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After months of waiting, emergency cash could soon be on the way for venues, like independent theaters and live music halls, that have lost money during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Small Business Administration started sending notices of awards last week to approved applicants through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program.

Congress approved the $16 million federal emergency grant program in December as a part of a sweeping $900 billion COVID-19 relief package.

However, the process to launch the program has been slow. It didn’t open for applications until April, and many venues have still yet to hear if they will be receiving any funds to keep their businesses running.

“On May 26, the [Small Business Administration] began sending notices of awards to approved Shuttered Venue Operators Grant applicants and will ramp up the rate of notifications in the coming days. Per the federal grant process, once approved applicants receive the notice of award, they must return signed documentation acknowledging acceptance. Upon the SBA receiving the required signed documentation, funds will be disbursed as quickly as possible to get our live entertainment venues back on track,” a USSBA representative said.

As of May 24, SBA has received 12,867 submitted applications to date:

  • 3,012 from Live Performance Arts Organization
  • 5,270 from Live Venue Operators/Promoters
  • 1,531 from Motion Picture Theaters
  • 678 from Museums
  • 879 from Theatrical Producers

The SBA said awards will be disbursed utilizing a tiered approach which prioritizes entities based on COVID-19 related gross revenue loss between April and December 2020.

  • First Priority – First 14 days of award disbursements, awards will be disbursed to those entities that’ suffered a 90% or greater gross revenue loss.
  • Second Priority – During the second 14 days awards will be disbursed to entities that suffered a70% or greater gross revenue loss.
  • Third Priority – 28 days after first and second priority disbursements are made, awards will be disbursed to entities that suffered a 25% or greater earned revenue loss.

The update confirms that it could still be weeks before some Lowcountry venues hear if they will receive any assistance.

Despite the Terrace Theater being able to get creative to keep going and keep their staff paid during the pandemic, the venue’s owner said they still applied for the extra cash in hopes of giving back to the Charleston community.

“We’ve been set up fortunate to be our own landlord, fortunate to live in a community like Charleston,” owner Paul Brown said. “Other communities and other theaters that I talk to and associate with, they didn’t have an option to do a drive-in. They were mandated closed. They didn’t have any staff to get back up in business, and they’re really suffering. They have larger overheads than this.”

Downtown Charleston’s Gaillard Center also applied for a grant through the Shuttered Venue Operators Program.

“The Charleston Gaillard Center submitted an application on April 26. There is a tiered priority system for this grant, and due to the continued support of our donors, members, the City of Charleston, and socially distanced venue rentals and performances, we are in the third tier,” Charleston Gaillard Center’s Marketing Director Kellie Lawson said. “Tier 1 grants are being awarded at this time. We should be approximately 4 weeks behind the first grants awarded based on our tier level. Once awarded, it may take a few months for funds to be fully disbursed.”

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