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Wisconsin venue owners still wait for SBA grant relief

Posted at 6:29 PM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 19:29:12-04

MILWAUKEE — Venue owners seeking pandemic relief will have to wait a little longer for that help.

The Small Business Administration portal connecting businesses with aid is still down, weeks after its scheduled launch date.

Wednesday marked thirteen days since owners of struggling venues were able to apply for grant dollars. Now, some business owners TMJ4 News spoke with argue time is of the essence as they wait for aid.

“It was a little frustrating because we worked so hard in getting all the documents together and answering questions,” said Peter Jest, owner of Shank Hall.

Inside an empty Shank Hall, Jest is preparing for re-opening this summer. Shank Hall was closed for more than a year. Now, 16 rows of boxes now take the place of seats. Each of them is filled with documents to help apply for shuttered venue operators' grant dollars.

"Me and my attorneys got everything together and then. It didn't work,” Jest Recalled.

Comedian Ton Johnson knows how critical stages are to his craft.

“Stand-up comedy is meant to be performed in front of people, and when we lose venues, that’s a loss for people to express themselves,” Johnson said.

April 8 was a day circled on many calendars as the SBA was set to launch a portal to apply.

“The portal opened up at 11 our time, but almost immediately crashed and eventually just closed entirely,” said Gary Witt, CEO of Pabst Theater Group.

Witt helped push for the grants, a total of $16 billion in available funds nationally.

According to a report from Wisconsin Policy Forum, Arts and cultural activities added $10.1 billion to Wisconsin's economy in 2017.

Last year, during the pandemic, the arts and entertainment industry was one of the hardest hit. Thirty-three percent of those in the industry filed for unemployment between March and July.

Witt said the longer the wait continues, the danger of losing small venues still looms.

“Even though our businesses have adapted, we’re in real danger of losing these independent businesses in our city and in America,” Witt said.

TMJ4 News reached out to the SBA for a timeline on when the portal will be up and running. We are still working to hear any updates.

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