As of this morning, no one is certain what President Trump will or will not sign when it comes to the $900+ billion federal coronavirus relief package in front of Congress. A bill which includes $15 billion set aside for the Save Our Stages Act. That’s the grant program via the Small Business Administration and introduced in a bi-partisan way by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX0) that would disburse funds up to 45% of a venue’s revenue from 2019 for independent live and filmed entertainment venue operators.
Despite most live event spaces’ owners and operators hanging on by threads, physical, financial and emotional (if at all, say, in the case of Boot & Saddle which had to shutter) 9 months after the pandemic’s lockdown start, most area operators claim a sense of relief. For everything from keeping to laying off additional workers, to maintaining rent and utility bill payments.
By the way, no one anticipates any of their venues opening tomorrow. Far from that, most owner-operators are looking to Autumn and Winter 2021 for any possible movement in booking, opening, playing and hanging.
Kerri Park, the General Manager of World Café Live and an associate of WCL’s founder, Hal Real, one of the people responsible for putting together the National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA, is cautiously optimistic.
“There is no doubt that the Save Our Stages Act being including in the new COVID relief package is a necessary lifeline to support independent venues in Philly and across the nation,” said Park. “We are grateful to Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. Evans, and Rep. Boyle for their consistent vocalization of why this is so important. This legislation is a crucial bridge to help us get to the place where we can re-open safely and start earning revenue again which is still a long road ahead. NIVA will be working very hard to support the SBA and its member venues to make sure the process is as accurate and efficient as possible. We are also going to work locally to make sure that every venue that is applicable knows that these funds are available so that Philly is as represented as it can be. While federally prioritizing these funds feels like the first positive shift for our industry since March, our fight to preserve the creative economy in Philadelphia and make space for it to thrive is far from over.”
Mark DeNinno, the owner of Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Center City, someone that dosage MAGAZINE and I spoke with last week about a virtual benefit to help save his restaurant-live venue shares Park’s tentative positivism. “The Save Our Stages money that we will be getting easily ensures that we are here in the fall of 2021. That’s when I really think will start to see some normalcy in terms of attendance,” said DeNinno.
“When will see that money I don’t know yet. As far as whether we will make it the answer is yes, we have a Go Fund Me up now that will use to pay artists and engineers. We have it set at $50,000 and that will easily get us to April. The artists have rallied behind us and they are doing a benefit marathon concert from January 9 to the 16th with all of the benefits going to Chris’ to ensure that we are here for them at the end of this tunnel. We even have Kurt Rosenwinkel live streaming from Germany to kick off our festival. I also have coordinated an East Coast Virtual Jazz festival with Birdland, Scullers, Keystone Korner, Smalls and Blues Alley which will happen at the end of March. This will also bring great awareness to what we are doing for the streaming platform to continue our only source of revenue right now.”
Sean Agnew has already dealt with loss, as he and his partners had to shed South Philly’s intimate Boot & Saddle, to save the larger of their concert venue holdings, Union Transfer. Agnew is all too knowing of the fact that any money needed could and should have happened earlier.
“Yep! If it passed in October, Boot & Saddle would have been saved. We already pulled everything out, started to sell equipment and the liquor license, etc. as we needed immediate access to Union Transfer,” noted Agnew. “That said, no one has any idea when the funds will be available, etc. There will be a specific application process through the SBA that we must go through. If it’s similar to the PPP process from last April, it will take a few weeks. The applications will likely ask what our lost expenditures for this year have been, while bringing in zero dollars in revenue, i.e. rent, payroll, utilities, insurance and the like. Either way, I can’t imagine that any of this will be ironed out during Christmas week. The whole process likely won’t open up until the end of January 2021?”
If there was one ray of sunshine to be gleaned from Agnew’s discussion of losing Boot & Saddle, it was this: “There might be the chance where we could open under a new location,” said Agnew enthusiastically. “Not likely. But potentially possible!”