Federal aid helped some music and arts groups. Others were left out

Federal aid helped some music and arts groups. Others were left out
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Theaters, museums and other arts and culture venues in Charlotte received nearly $60 million in federal funds to keep the industry afloat amid COVID-19.

But as with other COVID relief programs, industry members have raised questions about whether the money was distributed fairly.

What’s happening: The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, funded by last December’s stimulus package, handed out more than $10 billion in recent months to struggling businesses across the country.

Why it matters: In this city where everything is shiny and new, theater, live music and museums are an important part of our city’s cultural fabric. But these institutions also faced some of the largest losses of any industry amid COVID-19.

Axios analyzed the data from the Small Business Administration on local grantees. Businesses were eligible for grants equal to 45% of their revenue, up to $10 million.

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Here are some of the top recipients:

Data: U.S. Small Business Administration

BCMF LLC

This corporate entity took in the most of any firm in Charlotte and the program’s maximum of $10 million. The company is registered to an address at a shopping center on Carmel Road.

Google search results suggest it is associated with a music festival in New Jersey.

It also appears to be affiliated with the same ownership as Bar Management Group, based on a public records search. That firm owns several businesses that have been evicted from the EpiCentre, including Suite, Rooftop 210, Vida Cantina and Blackfinn Ameripub.

  • Bar Management Group is owned by local businessman Bob Durkin, who did not return multiple calls and emails from Axios.

Two other LLCs affiliated with the same address also received funding, bringing the total to $11.5 million.

  • One of the corporate entities, Pavilion LLC, lists it address at the EpiCentre, per North Carolina Secretary of State records.
  • Restaurants and bars were largely ineligible for the grants. Most of Bar Management Group’s businesses at the Epicentre are restaurants, bars and clubs, but Rooftop 210 describes itself as a rooftop bar and event venue.

Blumenthal

Blumenthal Performing Arts, which took a big financial hit as Broadway shut down, received $8.3 million in federal funds.

The organization expected to host shows through August 2021 that would have generated more than $46 million in ticket sales, CEO Tom Gabbard tells me. When those performances came to a halt, so did the Blumenthal’s ability to pay roughly $850,000 a month in overhead costs, which became $500,000 after layoffs.

  • “We had to eat into a lot of our reserves,” he says.

Two rounds of Paycheck Protection Program funding and CARES Act money distributed by the city covered five of the approximately 18 months that the Blumenthal was dark.

The shuttered venue aid helped fill that gap, Gabbard said. It also allowed the organization to take on more risk and reopen with new shows and exhibits, such as the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit at Camp North End.

  • Almost every show … is only there because of shuttered venues,” Gabbard says. “Without that money, Broadway would be dark.”

Other major recipients of the SVOG funding include:

  • Movie theater companies in Charlotte got one of the biggest boosts, taking in a total of $18.6 million, making up five of the 10 top recipients (Southern States Ventures, Fayetteville Cinemas, The Pointe Cinemas, Sun Valley Cinemas and Market Common Cinemas).
  • The NASCAR Hall of Fame and Discovery Place took in $3.3 million and $2.7 million, respectively.

What they’re saying: Mohammad Jenatian, president and CEO of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, says the program helped target assistance to the hardest-hit sectors.

 “A lot of these businesses are so essential for every community,” he said. “It was a matter of us doing everything that we could so that those assets would be protected.”

Yes, but: While some corporations received big payouts, others were left in the dark.

Middle C Jazz’s grant application was denied without explanation, says Larry Farber, founder and owner of the club. He is appealing the SBA’s decision, and awaiting the result.

  • I’m still sitting on pins and needles,” he said.

His club reopened in May 2020 at 25% capacity per state guidelines. But he says he operated at a loss to help put people to work and provide live music during a dark time.

Farber believes the government had the right intentions with its program. But he says the process resulted in some organizations that needed the money being overlooked.

  • “We of all people in my opinion deserve to be at the front of the line and not the back of the line,” he said.

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