The Small Business Administration (SBA) has ramped up its efforts to award Shuttered Venue Operators Grants (SVOG) program funds to independent venue owners and promoters who lost the majority of their income in 2020. As of midday Monday (June 21), 1,445 applicants have received award notices for funds from the federal relief program that was signed into law on Dec. 27.
In the last week alone, the SBA has sent out roughly 1,000 notices of awards — more than double the amount the administration provided in the 26 days since it began sending out award notices on May 26.
Of those awards, so far live venue operators and promoters have received 677 grants; performing arts organizations and talent representatives have received 232 and 186, respectively. According to the SBA, at least 5,004 live music venues and promoters have applied for a grant, which means roughly 13.5% have received award notices. In recent weeks, the SVOG program within the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance has brought on the team that quickly rolled out the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which opened in May.
Among the program’s award recipients so far are promoter Nederlander Concerts, which received $10 million; festival producer Danny Wimmer Presents, which received $9.4 million; and Colorado agency Madison House, which received $1.8 million. Southern California venue owner Lance Sterling of Sterling Venue Ventures received an award notice of more than $7 million on Friday — three days after his Canyon Club venue in Agoura Hills hosted a Foo Fighters underplay.
“I get nervous for people to see that [we were awarded $7 million] because they don’t know that I owe $11.8 million,” he says. “Even with that award sounding so big, each venue is a million dollars more than that in debt.” Sterling adds that he has not yet received the money in his bank account.
Among the venues on the list of awardees that Billboard contacted, none were able to confirm that they have received the SVOG funds. According to Sterling, the SBA told him the “first payment” would arrive in July or August.
“I think [the SBA] is trying to under promise and over deliver because I think what happened was they over promised and obviously we’re getting beaten up,” says Sterling, referencing a myriad delays that have slowed the federal grants’ distribution. The SBA took nearly four months to open applications for the grants and when it finally launched on April 8 the portal crashed. Venues had to wait another 18 days before it relaunched. It took an additional month before award notices began rolling out on May 26 and the SBA missed its two-week deadline to provide grants to Priority 1 businesses or those who lost 90% or more of their revenue in 2020.
Dalton Gerlach, owner of the Lodge Room in Los Angeles, tells Billboard that the venue’s $1.65 million award notice also came in on Friday, which also marked the day the L.A. establishment reopened with a show from Mndsgn.
“We haven’t gotten the money, but since April I’ve been like, ‘Gosh, is this really gonna happen?’” says Gerlach. “At this point, I can’t say anything poorly about the SBA. It looks like it worked.”
The list of awards also includes $9.5 million for Nashville’s Outback Presents, $2.4 million for Dallas’ Kessler Entertainment Group, $8 million for Seattle Theatre Group and $10 million for Madison’s NS2.
While Billboard has not been able to confirm funds in accounts for this latest round of recipients, there are venues that have their money. The Palace Theatre in Albany, New York, was one of the first venues to receive an approval notice on May 27, only one day after SBA Administrator Isabell Guzman testified before Congress that awards were rolling out. According to Palace Theatre director of finance Julia Elbaum, the venue received the funds in its account on June 4 — eight days after receiving its award notification.
“I’ll believe it when I see it, but [I’m] so relieved of course,” adds Gerlach. “It’s really just like some wind in the sails to be like, ‘Okay.’”
Additional reporting by Chris Eggersten.