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Some concert venues moving forward still waiting on federal aid

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 10:49 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - While concert venues are preparing for a renaissance with full crowds soon expected to return, many are moving forward without federal aid approved five-and-a-half months ago. Without that lifeline, they remained worried about their future.

In downtown Wichita, WAVE spent about 15 months closed with no revenue coming in and bills still needing paid. As the venue returns to booking acts to the stage, the federal grant program meant to help venues and the entertainment industry boomerang is coming at a sluggish pace. It’s a program the operators of WAVE helped to get passed through Congress. While excited about acts returning to the stage, like many venues, there is frustration behind the scenes at WAVE.

“We have a sold-out show (Thursday) and we should not have to worry about how we’re going to pay the artist because we don’t have any revenue coming in until this show,” WAVE Operating Partner Jessie Hartke said. “We don’t have the grant money that we were promised.”

The relief is called the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Run by the Small Business Administration, the program is to district $16 billion to venues and businesses in the entertainment industry impacted by the pandemic, places like WAVE.

“We are at 99 percent revenue loss over 2019 and we’re really struggling to pay our bills,” Hartke said.

WAVE was able to access state grants in 2020 to help with some expenses during the worst of the pandemic but that money has long since been used up.

Jessie, along with her husband, Adam, helped to form the National Independent Venue Association, which advocated for Congress to pass relief for their industry. That happened in December 2020. When the grant program opened to applications in early April, it came with little notice and a rocky start.

“We received word that it would open on April 8th on April 7th. We also received the FAQs and what to expect within the application the day before at about 8 pm that evening. We scrambled all night to get that info put together. Rehashed some of the darkest moments of that year, looking at all of the bank statements with just money gushing out,” said Hartke.

“(The) portal crashed almost immediately and then we sat for almost two weeks, having absolutely no idea when the portal might reopen,” Hartke said. “Once it did, it was April 26 and here we are, 45 days later.”

Hartke said WAVE and other venues were expecting to have that money in April.

“There have been a number of venues throughout the country who have gone out of business within the last two months because they were waiting for this money,” she said.

An update Wednesday from the SBA shows 90 applications have been awarded. It’s as more than 14,000 have filed.

Jessie said that Wave is part of the group of first priority group applicants, about 5,000 in total. They suffered a 90 percent or greater loss of their revenues, those with the greatest need. The first 14 days of awards were dedicated for this group but that period ends June 10. The second priority group is for applicants with 70 percent or greater losses.

“Funds are yet to be seen for 99 percent of us,” said Hartke.

While moving forward with concerts and welcoming back crowds, Hartke said the eventual reception of the assistance they’ve been expecting for months will be “a huge relief” to pay off debts, and that wait isn’t much longer.

“Absolutely insane. Our brains have to be in two different places at once.” Hartke said, “We’ve spent all of today trying to get ahold of our Congressional supporters to let them know how truly dire the situation is while at the same time, trying to get our venue ready for a sellout show.”

The Cotilion and Wichita Festivals, groups under the umbrella of Hartke Presents, also filed for grants but are still waiting to hear updates on where their applications stand.

Jessie said another concern they’ve heard is venues and promoters receiving Do Not Pay notices after the SBA listed their owner as dead, which is not the case.

The Crown Uptown Theatre said Wednesday they learned from their accountant Tuesday their application was awarded.

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