From clubs to museums, venue operators in Oregon hope federal grants offer ‘survival’

Jeremy Longstreet will open the door to his closed movie theater, St. John’s Twin Cinema and Pub in North Portland on February 22nd, 2021. He said a federal grant would “mean everything”.

Kate Davidson / OPB

As early as February, Jeremy Longstreet was standing in the empty cinema he owns in North Portland. The pandemic had blacked out St. John’s Twin Cinema and Pub for almost a year. Longstreet didn’t know when or how it would open again. But he knew he needed help.

He was waiting for the federal government to launch a large grant program for closed venues like his.

“It would mean anything,” he said. “It would mean that there is a future. I will still make it through. I will still try to open my business and give it a try. “

Now is the start day.

On Thursday, the U.S. Small Business Administration plans to accept applications for the $ 16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program – a long wait on Longstreet and more than three months after the federal government approves it.

The grants are designed to support live venues, theaters, museums and zoos whose revenues have been impacted by pandemic shutdowns and restrictions.

It’s a big program. Eligible applicants can qualify for up to 45% of the gross sales they made in 2019 prior to the pandemic. There is a limit of $ 10 million. The SBA says it will reserve $ 2 billion for smaller operators with up to 50 employees.

The SBA has tried to avoid some of the problems that plagued the initial paycheck protection program rollout, including the frantic race for first-come-first-served credit. This could help explain the slow start of this program.

Closed venue grants are prioritized according to who has lost the most. In the first two weeks, applicants who have lost 90% of their gross sales after the pandemic will receive their first dibs.

Some operators with fewer financial losses fear that they will run out of money before their turn. The SBA estimates a total of 15,000 grants will be awarded.

For some companies, an enclosed venue would be a lifeline. For others, it would be a valuable piece of the funding patchwork needed to end the pandemic.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland has already received PPP loans as well as funding under the CARES Act.

“It was very important just to keep us stable,” said Love Centerwall, vice president of development at OMSI.

However, that funding did not make up for the museum’s estimated loss of $ 8.3 million in revenue in 2020, he said. Nor can it increase pedestrian traffic in the museum. OMSI has more than 800,000 approvals in a typical year. In 2020, fewer than 200,000 people visited.

“Right now we have ‘Dinosaurs’ which is very popular and fully booked, but with reduced capacity,” Centerwall said. “Revenues are still falling significantly just because we can’t fill the halls.”

The renewed coronavirus restrictions announced this week for Multnomah County mean the number of visitors allowed inside OMSI will fall again on Friday.

On the eve of the closed scholarship launch, Jamie and Sonny Hess were still debating what to do.

The co-owners of Portland’s Blue Diamond Bar & Grill serve food and drink, as do many venue operators with live music. The food makes more money, but people come for the blues and R&B.

Jamie Hess struggled through a puzzle of the eleventh hour. Should they apply for a closed venue grant on Thursday or wait for more information to be released on a future SBA restaurant grant program?

“I have until midnight tonight to find out,” she said.

If the information was incomplete, the stakes were high. Hess said sales of the Blue Diamond were down nearly 60% in 2020.

“It’s our survival. I don’t think we’ll be through the summer without one of these scholarships, ”she said. “It’s basically so gross.”

Next week the venue plans to close the music again. You will be relying on limited outdoor services as COVID-19 cases rise again in Multnomah County.