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SBA set to begin $16B grant program for live-entertainment venues

The Shuttered Venue Operators Program is intended to help businesses that were unable to operate because of social distancing, including dinner theaters.

Dinner theaters and other eating places that generate most of their revenues from charges for entertainment can apply starting April 8 for up to $10 million in federal grants under a little-noticed provision in the COVID relief bill that was passed in December.

The measure is intended to help struggling live-performance venues such as theaters, music halls and comedy clubs, as well as cultural attractions such as museums and zoos—places that are just now being allowed to reopen in many states. The program will be administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, with $16.5 billion earmarked for grants.

Establishments can apply for up to 45% of their 2019 revenues, up to $10 million. About $2 billion of the funds are reserved for qualifying businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

Places that landed a Paycheck Protection Program loan can apply for a  Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG). grant. But recipients of a SVOG cannot subsequently apply for a first or second-draw PPP loan.

Public companies and places that were not in business prior to Feb. 29, 2020 are ineligible for the funds.

Restaurants that serve meals during live performances are not likely to qualify, according to the SBA. The program is intended to help entertainment venues that were forced to close or suspend key operations while the nation was in lockdown because of the pandemic. Toward that end, a qualifying business would have made most of its money from live performances or charging for attractions.

For that reason, the agency said, dinner theaters could be eligible.

“A dinner theatre could qualify if its principal business activity is the organization, promotion, management, or hosting of live concerts, comedy shows, theatrical productions or other events by performing artists, rather than restaurant operations,” the SBA states.

The SVOG was created by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, the legislation that was hammered through Congress and signed into law by President Trump in late December. At that time, the program was allocated $15 billion for loans. The American Rescue Plan, the comprehensive relief measure drafted by President Biden and Congressional Democrats, added another $2.5 billion to the kitty.

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