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After long wait, concert venues set for millions in pandemic relief grants

Tampa Bay entertainment venues, theaters and museums are preparing for long-delayed Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.
Ruth Eckerd Hall was among the many local venues bathed in red light on Sept. 1, 2020 to raise awareness of a potential bill to allocate aid to concert venues and promoters. The program that eventually passed, dubbed Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, will begin accepting applications April 8.
Ruth Eckerd Hall was among the many local venues bathed in red light on Sept. 1, 2020 to raise awareness of a potential bill to allocate aid to concert venues and promoters. The program that eventually passed, dubbed Shuttered Venue Operators Grants, will begin accepting applications April 8. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Mar. 31
Updated Mar. 31

After months of waiting, Tampa Bay concert halls, promoters, theaters and attractions are preparing for a long-anticipated pandemic relief windfall.: Shuttered Venue Operators Grants.

The $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grants was part of a pandemic relief package passed in December, but it’s been delayed for weeks as the Small Business Administration has made tweaks and figured out how to roll it out. Applications will finally be available April 8, according to the agency.

They’re coming not a moment too soon.

“They have been as slow as molasses in coming up with the criteria and process,” said Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. “A lot of these organizations, and especially a lot of these theaters, they’re hanging on by their fingernails. So it’s essential that they get it. It’s just taken so long. This thing was signed in December, and it’s now April. That’s another whole quarter that’s gone by.”

Related: Shuttered Tampa Bay entertainment venues may soon see relief

Under the program, venues, concert promoters, theater companies and a host of other entities are eligible to apply for grants worth up to 45 percent of their gross revenue from 2019, with aid capped at $10 million. Grants will be given first to venues that lost 90 percent of their revenue in a given quarter, then 70 percent, then 25 percent.

The Small Business Administration’s latest guidelines offer more details about who is and isn’t likely to receive funds. Among those probably left out: drive-in movie theaters, wedding and event spaces and theaters owned and controlled by publicly traded companies like Live Nation.

Some venues have already received assistance in the form of Paycheck Protection Program loans through the Small Business Administration. Originally, Shuttered Venue Operators Grant applicants were prohibited from applying for a second loan this spring. But the latest relief and stimulus package, passed this month, eliminated that restriction, meaning organizations can now apply for both. (Loan totals will, however, be deducted from grant allocations).

Among the many Tampa Bay venues that got loans last spring: the Straz Center, which got $2,828,859; ZooTampa at Lowry Park ($2,155,051); the Florida Aquarium ($1,983,977); Ruth Eckerd Hall, ($1,234,235); and the Salvador Dali Museum ($703,000). The Small Business Administration has not yet released totals from its second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

Related: Concerts return to Tampa Bay as struggling venues await government relief

Ruth Eckerd Hall spokeswoman Katie Pedretty said the venue lost 90 percent of its business and was planning to apply for the maximum of $10 million. The venue did not apply for a second loan, she said.

ZooTampa president and CEO Joseph Couciero did get a second Paycheck Protection Program loan, and said the zoo would also apply for a grant after losing “a significant amount of earned revenue,” but he expected the zoo would be in a lower priority tier of grant recipients.

Lisi said the Straz Center planned to seek both the grants and a second loan, in part because the pool of potential applicants had grown so wide.

“Originally they thought there were going to be 10,000 awardees. It looks now it’s going to get to 30,000,” she said. " I think they’re going to run out of money. My CFO said she’s doing both, which I was grateful for, because I really think it’s going to be a race to the end, and I don’t think there’s going to be enough money. I would rather hedge my bets.”

Still, smaller organizations are eager to seek all the aid they can. The Carrollwood Cultural Center got a loan worth $64,870 last spring, as well as a second loan for more than $77,000 this spring, said executive director Paul Berg. And there’s still plenty of need.

“We’re going to go for it and see what we can get, because the performing arts need all the help they can get,” Berg said. “If we get anything, that’s great. It’s more than we had before, and it’s supplementing all the loss of income with everything that’s been going on. I’ve lost track of the amount of potential income we’ve lost.”