MILWAUKEE — An opportunity to save the stages across the country and here in Wisconsin has begun, now that entertainment venues have a chance to apply for some critical economic relief to keep their doors open.
"You try to do everything to survive," said Peter Jest.
Shank Hall owner Peter Jest was at the ready early Thursday morning with his attorney, making sure he had everything he needed to apply for some much-needed grant funding.
"We've been shut down since March. I haven't had any concerts across the state since January - it's our total income," said Jest.
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Peter was just one of the millions of entertainment business owners across the country waiting for the moment to start applying for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. It's a new program that will be giving out more than $16 billion in grant money to operators of live venues, performing arts organizations, museums, movie theaters, and more. All places that have been hit hard by the pandemic.
"In Wisconsin, we love our music and we love all the venues and museums we have. It's just a wonderful thing, but it's been a rough year," said Eric Ness, the Wisconsin District Director for SBA.
According to the SBA, the grants will be awarded in three phases. The first round will be given to businesses that have suffered 90% or more in lost revenue between April and December of 2020. The second round will go to those that have suffered 75% or more in lost revenue between April to December of 2020. And the last round will go to groups that have suffered 25% or more of lost revenue between one quarter of 2019 and the corresponding quarter of 2020.
"In comparison to 2019 to 2020, we lost 97% of our revenue," said Gary Witt.
Pabst Theatre Group co-owner and CEO, Gary Witt also applied for the grant, and says the group used to put on 700 shows a year. But since the pandemic, that number has gone down to zero.
"We can't open until we are 100%. You can ask Willie Nelson to take a 50% pay cut because we have a 50% capacity," said Witt.
To put this issue into perspective, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, state estimates show 33.9% of those employed in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector in Wisconsin filed for unemployment between March 15 and July 5 - which was the third-highest among all sectors, behind food services at 39% and manufacturing at 37%.
"A lot of businesses that were close to closing or going out of business are really hanging on by very little at this point in time," said Witt.
Applications for the grants will be given out on a first-in, first-out basis. Awards are also expected to be given out starting in late April.