By Maria Recio and Peter Blackstock, Austin American-Statesman, USA TODAY NETWORK
Almost 4 months after Congress accepted coronavirus aid spending for long-suffering leisure venues, the cash is now obtainable. However the pent-up demand was so fierce, together with from Austin-area venues, that the Small Enterprise Administration web site crashed.
Among the many venues searching for to faucet into the $16 billion program are Antone’s, the Lengthy Heart, the Zach Theatre and the Elephant Room.
The grant program was championed by two part-time Austin residents: U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and signed by President Donald Trump in December.
COVID-19 aid web site crashes
However the on-line system for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was so overwhelmed by purposes Thursday that its web site crashed. The SBA closed the portal, and as of Friday afternoon it was nonetheless shuttered because the company tried to repair it. SBA spokesperson Andrea Roebker stated no purposes went via and company officers would announce a brand new launch date when the system is prepared.
Williams, who’s proud that the laws he co-authored, first generally known as Save Our Levels, was bipartisan, is livid with the debut. “The SBA’s rollout . . . has been torturous for venue operators who have been promised aid greater than three months in the past,” Williams stated.
A Cornyn aide stated Friday that the senator “needs this grant program to reopen for purposes as quickly as attainable.” At a press convention Wednesday at Antone’s, Cornyn stated reside music venues have been among the many first companies to shut and could be among the many final to reopen and that Congress “acknowledged the necessity was there to maintain the roles alive and the companies alive, in order that once we’ve bought the virus within the rearview mirror, we might get better. We couldn’t try this with out throwing a lifeline to the companies, and the individuals who work at these companies.”
However Williams is asking for a congressional investigation into the sluggish rollout of this system.
“Below the Biden administration this system has been plagued with delays and mismanagement at each juncture,” Williams stated.
Some Austin venues compelled to scale back hours, employees
Elisbeth Challener, managing director of Zach Theatre, was not so harsh, despite the fact that she and her workforce have been able to go on the 11 a.m. Thursday begin time, and saved making an attempt to enter their data, acutely aware that the system of awarding the grants labored on a first-come, first-serve foundation.
“We’re ready with bated breath to restart the submission course of,” she instructed the Statesman. “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
Since shutting down final March, the Zach advanced of three indoor halls has held restricted packages outside — together with reside musical performances — and on-line teaching programs.
“It is a lifeline for thus many organizations,” stated Challener. The Zach, which celebrates 100 years in operation this 12 months, needed to lay off 80% of its employees final 12 months, she stated.
The SBA program is structured to present grants primarily based on 45% of a venue’s 2019 pre-pandemic income with precedence given to venues that misplaced 90% of income. The utmost grant quantity for a single venue is $10 million.
The Zach arts advanced is searching for about $2 million in federal funds that Challener stated will go to rehire employees, pay actors for upcoming productions, make enhancements to guarantee a clear theater area, equivalent to set up air filtration programs and pay for different working prices.
The primary indoor present is slated for late November — Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” musical — and, in the intervening time, the plan is to require visitors to put on masks, relying on U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention pointers.
On the Lengthy Heart, Chief Govt Officer Cory Baker fondly remembers the final efficiency, over a 12 months in the past, by Harry Connick Jr., earlier than having to close down.
“We rapidly pivoted to on-line,” she stated, and to out of doors live shows with “pods” for as much as 4 folks, marked to be socially distant.
Officers on the performing arts middle laid off 40% of the employees, and she or he stated with the federal grant, “The hope is to revive the workforce as a lot as attainable.”
Pink River Cultural District loses nightclubs
Cody Cowan, government director of the Pink River Cultural District, which represented 12 golf equipment alongside Pink River Road earlier than the pandemic started, stated their numbers have been whittled to 9 with the closures of Barracuda, Plush and Scratchouse.
Pink River venues Stubb’s and Empire Management Room have held restricted out of doors reveals in the course of the pandemic, whereas others, such because the Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies, have saved their doorways shut all through.
Cowan credit the Nationwide Unbiased Venue Alliance, which fashioned final 12 months to coordinate motion amongst U.S. venues, for serving to Cornyn and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., get the shuttered venues laws into the pandemic aid package deal.
Venue-assistance packages from the town of Austin helped to bridge the hole, Cowan stated, although the town’s restricted funds implies that these packages “have been form of like spoons feeding water to a affected person on their deathbed. That cash has saved venues from dying straight out, however this (federal program) is the factor that can carry us off of life assist.”
‘A lot of paperwork’
Laura Mordecai and her husband, Mike Mordecai, personal BBA Administration & Reserving and report label Fable. BBA has booked downtown jazz membership the Elephant Room for 3 a long time, and Laura Mordecai has spent a lot of her time in latest weeks getting the venue’s information to ensure that the shuttered venues utility.
“It’s a number of paperwork,” she stated. “Most of it’s fairly easy, so it’s only a matter of doing it. They wish to see that you just’re a legit music venue, and I’m glad they’re doing that, nevertheless it’s a number of gathering up of documentation.”
She credit the Elephant Room’s homeowners, Jean-Pierre Vermaelen and David Chamberlain, for maintaining the membership afloat in the course of the 13-month closure. “It’s been so commendable that they’ve been prepared to keep it up and never simply shut the doorways,” she stated. “They wish to see it open again up, in order that they’ve caught with it via the laborious instances.”
Mordecai stated the homeowners are probably opening by Might 18 “on the very earliest,” with the caveat that they’re persevering with to observe the realm’s COVID-19 numbers carefully.
Many Austin venues hoping for return to normalcy
Joe Ables, who opened the Saxon Pub in South Austin in 1990, has saved the storied venue’s doorways closed all through the pandemic. His workers have been furloughed throughout that point. The Saxon Pub obtained some assist just lately from a metropolis grant program administered by the Lengthy Heart, and from a fund run by the New York Stay Music Society.
The applying course of for the shuttered venues grants “has been excellent for a authorities program,” Ables stated. “I’m impressed with the element they put into this.” He attended a few webinar periods that helped him perceive what data he wanted to assemble for the applying.
“They need a press release of want,” he added. “The principle factor they need is stability within the venue, so I believe a prolonged historical past like ours goes to be useful.”
Ables stated he’s aiming to reopen the Saxon Pub on June 1, doubtless with famend Austin guitarist David Grissom resuming his long-running Tuesday happy-hour residency. “We don’t know what to anticipate, businesswise,” he added. “I don’t know if persons are by no means going to return out once more, or what. However I’m hoping that six or seven weeks from now, we generally is a common venue once more.”