As the government prepared to take applications for a $ 16 billion relief fund for music clubs, theaters and other live event businesses on Thursday, thousands of desperate applicants waited impatiently to complete their paperwork in the afternoon Used to be when it was time to open the system.
And then they waited. And waited. About four hours later, the system was still not working, sending applicants in a spasm of anxiety.
“It’s a complete disaster,” said Eric Sosa, owner of C’mon Everybody, a club in Brooklyn. Tweeted On agency.
Shortly after 4pm, the Small Business Administration – which takes the initiative, the closed Venue Operators’ Grant Program – gave up its attempt to recover the broken system and shut it down for the day. No application was processed.
“Technical problems arose despite several successful tests of the application process,” agency spokesman Andrea Robaker said in a written statement.
After discussing with the vendors who built the system, the agency decided to “close the portal to ensure fair and equal access to the portal, as it is first-time, first-serve, “Said Ms. Roebker. “This decision was not taken lightly as we understand the need for early relief to this hard hit industry.”
in Social media forums And zoom call, frustrated applicants vent their anger and share.
Tom Weiman, the program director at the Columbus Theater in Providence, said, “It’s hard to hear ‘help is on the way’ and then won’t be able to apply.” The process will be completely smooth, but it is life and death for our places. ”
Meltdown’s echo problems the agency was involved in taking applications for the paycheck protection program last year, which it also oversees. When that program opened, the agency’s overwhelmed system was seized – and The same thing happened again, Weeks later, when a new round of funding became available.
Applicants for the grant program were unconvinced that the agency was not better prepared – particularly because the funds have to be disbursed based on the order in which people apply. Those who receive their applications in a hurry have the best chance of getting help before the money runs out.
Brooklyn club owner Mr. Sousa said in an interview, “It pits pangs against each other because we are all mad for it.” “And it shouldn’t be like this. We are all one community. ”
Tampa, Fla. For businesses such as Krauber, a music club, obtaining grants is a matter of survival. Krauber’s primary owner, Tom DeGourg, took out more than $ 200,000 in personal loans after closing last year, including one used as a liquor license.
After more than a year, the club has reopened with a smattering of events at reduced capacity, but the business is still running in the red, Mr DeGeorge said.
“We lost a full year of concerts in the blink of an eye, which was close to $ 1 million in revenue,” Mr. DeGourg said. “That’s why we need this grant so badly.”
The aid was authorized by Congress at the end of last year Months of lobbying By an ad hoc coalition of music venues and other groups who warned of the loss of an entire sector of the art economy.
For music venues in particular, the final year has been a scramble with the club owner of the locals to spark their minds in any creative way to run congested campaigns, sell T-shirts and raise funds . For example, the Subtranian Club in Chicago agreed to place patrons’ names on their marquee for holidays, donating $ 250 or more.
“This has been the busiest year,” said Robert Gomez, the subtrain’s primary owner. “But it’s all about, ‘Where am I going to get funding?”
Prior to Thursday’s nuisance, the opening of the closed venue program was fraught with complexity and confusion.
The Small Business Administration posted a 58-page guide for applicants late Wednesday, then quickly took it offline. A revised version of the guide was posted minutes before the portal opened on Thursday. (An agency spokesman said the guide had to be updated to reflect “some last-minute system changes”.
And less than two hours before the agency had to start accepting applications, its Inspector General An alert was sent Warnings of “serious concerns” with program wastage and fraud control. The current audit plan of the Small Business Administration “exposes billions of dollars to the potential misuse of great funds.” Wrote a report.
Successful applicants will receive grants equal to 45 percent of their gross earnings from 2019 to $ 10 million. Those who lose 90 percent of their revenue (compared to the prior year) after the coronavirus epidemic will have a 14-day priority window to receive funding, followed by a loss of 70 percent or more. And there will be a 14-day period. If any funds remain after that, they will go to applicants who had a 25 percent sales loss in at least one quarter of 2020. Places owned by large corporations, such as Live Nation or AEG, are not eligible.
The application process is extensive, with detailed questions about the locations budget, staff and equipment.
“They want to make sure you’re not just setting up a piano in the corner of an Italian restaurant and calling yourself a music venue,” said Blaine Tucker, a lawyer for several music venues in Texas.
Even with the grant, music venues may have to face Several dry months Before the tour and live events return at any time like prependemic levels.
The grant program also helps Broadway theaters, performing arts centers, and even zoos, which share many of the same economic struggles.
For example, Eau Claire, Wis. The Pablo Center in Confluence was able to raise about $ 1 million from donations and grants during the epidemic, yet still $ 1.2 million less on its annual operating expenses, said Jason John Anderson, its executive director.
“By the time we reopen, at the earliest in October 2021, we have been closed as much as we were open,” he said. (The center opened in 2018 at a cost of $ 60 million.)
Thousands of small clubs that make the dot on the national concert map lack access to major donors and, in many cases, have survived the smoke for months.
Stephen Chilton, owner of the 300-capacity Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said he had taken out “a few hundred thousand” in debt to keep the club afloat. In October, it reopened with a pop-up coffee shop inside, and the club hosts some events, such as general knowledge contests and other shows.
“We are losing very little when we were completely shut down,” Mr. Chilton said, “but it is not making up for lost revenue from committing events.”
The Rebel Lounge hopes a grant will help it survive until it can bring back a full complement of music festivals. And if its application is not successful?
“There is no Plan B,” Mr. Chilton said.