Austin music venues still waiting for money from Save Our Stages Act

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Data from the Small Business Administration indicates that only a fraction of the more than $16 billion set aside for The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program has actually made it to those businesses.

The latest report from SBA on June 21 shows that only about 7% of the money requested from businesses has been awarded so far.

An SBA spokesperson said an updated report is expected later Monday.

Ryan Garrett, General Manager of Stubb’s, says debt is mounting as they wait for their grant — which they applied for in April.

“It would be a misconception to say venues are back. You can’t erase almost 18 months of closure with a handful of shows in recent weeks,” Garrett said.

Garrett says they’re allowing full capacity crowds at their shows, but scheduling those shows takes time and they are not yet back to full staffing.

Meanwhile, Stephen Sternschein says his two venues aren’t back to full capacity indoors.

“We have numerous repairs that need to be made to the air conditioning systems. The Parish was damaged by the winter storm that happened, and none of those things– we haven’t been able to start any of that stuff because we don’t have the money,” said Sternschein, who is a managing partner of Heard Presents, which operates The Parish and Empire Control Room & Garage.

Sternschein is hoping for $1.5 million and says although The Parish has been accepted, they haven’t gotten that award money. He says Empire’s application is still being processed.

“It’s the equivalent of like nine months of expenses, is what we’re looking for, and that’s including the costs of getting the club reopened and then operating at a significant loss, you know, this year,” he said.

DJ Questlove plays at Empire Control Room & Garage on June 12. Operators say they’ve been operating in the red as they try to reopen safely after about 18 months. (Photo courtesy 12 Rivers Productions)

KXAN reached out to the SBA. A spokesperson says their team is working “around the clock to process, approve and disburse funds as quickly as possible to get the nation’s venues back on track.”

They attribute a large part of the delays to “statutory requirements” created during the last administration.

“The applications require extensive scrutiny,” wrote SBA spokesperson June Teasly, who explained that some applicants have included up to 100 documents for review.

But Sternschein calls that fingerpointing.

“The statutory requirements weren’t the problem, the problem was the lack of communication from the SBA on what would satisfy those requirements,” he said.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett agrees.

“I agree that much of the problem is SBA-created in what they did and didn’t do in a timely way, and the staff shortage complicates this,” he said. “The whole performance is just highly unacceptable.”

Doggett says his office is working to help about 1,000 businesses whose applications the SBA has flagged, needing more information.

Sternschein says Empire’s outdoor space reopened in October but indoor spaces are still awaiting repairs. (Photo courtesy 12 Rivers Productions)

Until then, Sternschein’s deficit deepens.

“Every month that we’re not able to finish the reopening expenses, or like to actually reopen our rooms, that loss gets larger and larger,” he said.

Across the street, shuttered venues provide a reminder of business that couldn’t survive the pandemic.

“There’s two venues that went away for good and haven’t reopened, one that came back as something different,” he said.

But he’s holding out hope that the SVOG funds are coming in just a couple weeks, as the agency says.

“Seeing people smile and have that experience again and seeing the artists, you know, experience applause… that’s what we’re fighting for,” he said. “We’re not going to stop.”

Teasly said the SBA is increasing staff, but doesn’t have exact numbers to share.

The agency says there are still funds available in the Shuttered Venues Operators grant program for qualifying businesses. You can find more information at www.sba.gov/svog.

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