Entertainment venues finally get grant funding chance after 3 months of delays

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INDIANAPOLIS — In late December, legislators rushed to get a bill out to help fund struggling entertainment venues. More than three months later, those places are just getting a chance to apply for those grants.

“Obviously we wanted it to happen a lot faster,“ said Josh Baker, owner of the Fountain Square concert venue HiFi. “Everyone was waiting, so it put us at a really bad spot at a really bad time.”

They are called shuttered venue operators grants (SVOG). Come April 8, locations will be able to apply for the money. Baker attributes the application delay to numerous factors.

“You had an election and confirmed a new Small Business Administration (SBA) director. This program in particular is the first time the SBA has done a grant program, which they are normally used to doing loan programs. Ensuring no fraud is a pretty big process happening pretty quick.”

HiFi was forced to rebuild their upcoming outdoor concert venue with what little funds they had left. The concert spot built an outdoor space last year to be able to host concerts during the pandemic. At the time, capacity was severely limited inside their typical indoor venue.

The majority of the acts were local bands playing in front of a 250 person capacity outdoor space. The new venue will feature a much larger stage and hold 900 people at full capacity. Baker hopes it will pay off after this long battle to survive.

“I would say we are getting by, but barely. A lot of I-Owe-You’s, and, ‘help us now, pay you later’ type stuff,” said Baker before explaining that bigger name bands have been clamoring to get booked for the coming months.

“I would say this year, or the next two years, will be the busiest concert season you have ever seen. The annex is gonna do 75,000 [fans] just this summer. Bands that toured maybe 30-40 days a year, or 50 days last year, are going to play 150 days this year.”

Making matters worse on venues is the fact that the grant originally barred places from applying for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. That recently changed, but not before venues went months without funding.

“Unfortunately it was [amended] right near the [PPP application] deadline, so a lot of people scrambled to get it in, and then they extended the deadline,” adds Baker, “That is the type of stuff we have been going through.”

“If you apply for PPP, and you get an SVOG grant, you subtract your PPP money to that. The SVOG grant pays it back essentially,” detailed Matthew Baizer, chief operating officer for Flix Brewhouse.

Flix in Carmel remains closed. It was the company’s most profitable location in 2019. Flix Brewhouse is a combination brewery and theater that offers a made from scratch food menu. To reopen they believe it will take federal funding, more vaccinations to improve customer confidence, and help from Hollywood.

“It’s going to take a steady supply of movies. No one goes to a movie theater to stare at a blank screen,” smiled Baizer.

Theaters have struggled to emerge from the pandemic as film companies began releasing new movies straight to at-home viewing. Companies like DC Comics teamed up with HBO to release their films to theaters as well as the HBO Max platform.

“Are they going to give us exclusive rights to film? Or will they be released to home?” That’s the question on Baizer’s mind.

Several big films are waiting to be released, but Flix hopes movie companies will choose them first.

“All these titles that are big movies are in the can ready to go, and now it’s a jockeying for position issue,” added Baizer.

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