First to close. Last to open. And they still can’t get help.
After a year closed and running at limited-capacity, small music venues across the country got a lifeline early this year when they learned that they were poised for a federal bailout specifically meant for the small clubs that are the lifeblood of the American touring industry.
Today at noon—along with other theaters and other live event businesses—those venues started to apply for a Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program meant to "provide a much-needed lifeline for live venues, museums, movie theaters."
But as the New York Times points out, there’s been a glitch in the system that’s preventing venues from applying. The SBA acknowledged the glitch eerily reminiscent of problems with the rollout of applications for the Paycheck Protection Program. The SBA said it was “working as fast as possible” to address the technical issues.
On top of its story, the Times ran a photo of Ybor City venue owner Tom DeGeorge, who CL’s been in constant contact with since the fight to save stages started, inside of Crowbar, which has lost an entire year of concerts and close to $1 million in revenue. DeGeorge—who’s a Florida captain and Southeast leader for the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which lobbied for the music venue grant—told the Times he’s posted his liquor license as collateral in the process of taking out more than $200,000 in personal loans to keep his business afloat.
DeGeorge—who’s been the loudest voice for local venues that were the first to close at the onset of the pandemic—cut back on his local interviews as he prepared his application for the grant.
DeGeorge has been operating at a loss since reopening for limited-capacity shows driven by local artists. The national touring industry that made his club one of the busiest in Tampa Bay is still on its knees.
Applying for the grant is a deliberately complicated process to make sure someone’s not just setting up a piano in a bar and calling themselves a music venue. But the funds—if they arrive should be worth it. The Times says that successful applicants will receive a grant that equals 45% of their gross earned revenue from 2019, up to $10 million.
“Those who lost 90 percent of their revenue (compared to the prior year) after the coronavirus pandemic took hold will have a 14-day priority window for receiving the money, followed by another 14-day period for those who lost 70 percent or more,” the Times added. “If any funds remain after that, they will then go to applicants who had a 25 percent sales loss in at least one quarter of 2020.”
As CL pointed out in December, language in the relief bill expressly excludes businesses that operate in more than 10 states and employ more than 500 people, among other restrictions. That means venues owned by large corporations, like Live Nation or AEG, are not eligible.
On his way back from his accountant’s office, DeGeorge told CL he, like others across the U.S., was unable to apply. He couldn’t even update a single file supporting his application.
“Last night I told people, ‘Don’t be devastated if we don’t get to hit send tomorrow.’ For the first 30 minutes, it wasn’t working and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be up tonight,” DeGeorge added.
Brian Thompson, General Manager at Carrollwood comedy club Side Splitters, told CL that his venue was also unable to apply for the grant.
He said reps from NIVA told him they were working with the SBA to clear up glitches in the Q&A. Within his NIVA threads there’s confidence that when the glitches are worked out, the SBA will give ample notice to venues before making the application live again.
On the Monday, April 12, DeGeorge told CL that despite any unexpected changes, he does not expect applications for the SBA’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant to be available any sooner than Thursday, April 18.
"I trust the SBA when they say they're going to give us 'ample time' to go through the new FAQ section of the grant application before opening the portal," DeGeorge said.
The grant is part of the massive economic stimulus package, the American Rescue Plan Act, signed on March 11 by President Biden. That relief bill added $1.25 billion to the cash reserves for grants to be made available for venues.
The assistance came to fruition against all reasonable odds late last year aafter a diehard group of about 40 independent venue owners and promoters marshalled their energies and got a $15 billion provision included in the $900 billion pandemic relief package that Congress passed and President Trump signed into law. It’s called the Save Our Stages Act, and it just might do what its name promises.
These people, who became instant lobbyists and called themselves “The Fuckers,” did the heavy lifting on behalf of a larger organization, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which hastily formed just a few weeks after the coronavirus shut down live entertainment.
UPDATED: 04/12/21 1 p.m. Updated with new comment from DeGeorge and additional background on the SBA grant.
See a list of Tampa “Safe & Sound” live music venues here.
Support local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.