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Billings live entertainment venues thrilled about new round of COVID relief grants

Posted at 10:53 PM, Aug 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 12:56:55-04

A new program to help live entertainment venues that have struggled during COVID-19 and a second payment of business stabilization grants will soon be available.

“Live entertainment businesses that bring together large groups of Montanans and visitors have had to cancel or postpone all of their events during the pandemic. While that effort has certainly minimized transmission of COVID-19 and kept their customers and employees safe, it has greatly impacted their revenues and outlook,” Gov. Steve Bullock said in a Helena news conference Wednesday. “This funding will offer support to the hundreds of workers employed in the live entertainment industry and provide long term support to businesses to ensure they can resume offering events that are fundamental to our quality of life, as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

The governor announced that $10 million in federal coronavirus relief funds will go to the Live Entertainment Grant Program.

The program will provide up to 25 percent of a business's 2019 gross revenue or a maximum of $1 million per applicant for venues whose primary business is live entertainment.

Many venues, such as The Pub Station in downtown Billings, have not had live entertainment since the COVID-19 closures.

"There's a lot of businesses that say we're at 50, 60, 70 percent of where we were last year," said Sean Lynch, who along with his wife owns the Pub Station. "We're not even at five percent."

Lynch said grants will keep the business going into the second quarter of 2021.

"This is a lifeline for us," he said. "I didn't want to turn the Pub Station into condos. We want to continue to be able to provide live entertainment to Billings, Montana because that's what we do best."

Lynch worked with the governor, and part of the requirement is that 33 percent of the revenue from last year has to be from ticket sales.

"From April to mid-June, we're 112 percent down because of ticket refunds," Lynch said. "So not only have we not been taking in any income, but we've been paying out a tremendous amount in refunds as well."

MetraPark management has not yet decided on applying for the grants.

"We've got to dig in to make sure that we're not exempt because we're a government or a county entity," said Tim Goodridge, MetraPark assistant general manager. "We make all of the other thresholds for lost revenue and the percentage of revenue that we're still operating at compared to 2019, a year ago."

Goodridge said shows rely on crowds.

"It's the energy of the crowd that really elevates the experience to something special," Goodridge said.

"We rely on large gatherings and with social distancing, which I completely support," said Jan Dietrich, Alberta Bair Theater executive director. "It's not viable to bring in a concert."

Dietrich said renovation is on schedule and the fall reopening, scheduled for Sept. 12, has been postponed.

"We don't have a date yet that we can reopen," she said.

"Safety is the most important thing in our business and it has been well prior to COVID," said Lynch.

Lynch estimates that about 30 live entertainment venues in Montana may be eligible for the grants.