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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cantwell discusses COVID-19 relief program, concerns with live-venue operators

The Magic Lantern was among several businesses that participated in a virtual roundtable event with Sen. Maria Cantwell Thursday to discuss the application process for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Among the first to temporarily shut down and the last to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, music venues, independent movie theaters, performing arts groups and museums are now eligible for federal grants to sustain operations.

Applications opened Thursday for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, which provides more than $16.2 billion in federal aid for struggling businesses and nonprofits.

About $2 billion will be reserved for applicants with up to 50 full-time employees. Applicants can qualify for grants equal to 45% of their gross revenue for up to a maximum amount of $10 million, according to the SBA.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell met with venue operators in the state via a virtual roundtable Thursday to discuss the grant application process and need for assistance.

“You represent some of the hardest-hit industry sectors of our impacted economy because of the COVID pandemic and yet we weren’t able to get the specific help to you until December,” the Washington Democrat told venue operators during the discussion. “And today is the magic day. Today is the day that portal goes live in which you can apply for those dollars to help your particular venue, your particular location.”

Congress passed the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program in December as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for COVID-19 relief.

The Magic Lantern Theatre in downtown Spokane relied on Paycheck Protection Program loans to sustain operations after temporarily closing at the onset of the pandemic, co-owner Katy Sheehan said.

The Magic Lantern reopened last month for private rentals of up to six people and customers are excited about returning to movie theaters, Sheehan said.

“I’m just so grateful for the these funds,” Sheehan said, referring to the grant program. “I know they are going help us stretch this time even further, and we are hoping for continued support as well.”

Philip Cowan, executive director of The Grand Cinema Tacoma, expressed concern to Cantwell about the application process after the SBA temporarily suspended the grant portal Thursday morning because of technical issues.

Venue operators also are concerned about the grant funding running out, he added.

“Everyone is lining up trying to get their application in today because they’re worried that the money might disappear, and that’s the critical thing to our existence for this year,” Cowan said. “That’s our biggest concern, and I’ve talked to others who wanted me to make sure that we conveyed that to you.”

Cantwell said there will be continued focus on support for the grant program.

The SBA is working closely with portal vendors to reopen as soon as possible, according to information posted on its website Thursday.

There are more than 135 independent music venues in the state. Prior to the pandemic, venues employed more than 3,000 workers and generated more than $785 million in annual economic activity.

There are nearly 90 independent movie theaters in the state that will be eligible for the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.