Many performance venues still waiting for pandemic aid

In April the Q.E.D. Theater in Astoria reopened its doors to reduced capacity after being dark for 13 months. Owner Kambri Crews says the venue has been limping along.

"We were just shy of about 75% in losses," she said of the theater's revenue loss.

In December, lawmakers in Washington finally passed a $16.1 billion relief package called the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program, and help was on the way for theater owners across the country. Until it stalled.

"We were so relieved and grateful, it was a long time coming in December," Crews said. "So add six months to it and now it's a dire emergency situation here."

The Small Business Administration oversees the program. It approves applications and distributed the funds. Of the more than 14,000 venues that applied for a grant under the relief bill, only 90, or less than 1%, have been awarded funds, according to an SBA report.

"We've been on pins and needles many months," said Doreen Cugno, the co-founder, president, and CEO of the St. George Theatre on Staten Island.

The 1,900-seat theater, which has hosted the likes of Tony Bennett and popular kids acts, has been dark since last March and won't reopen until October. It has stayed afloat through fundraising and other small grants.

"We really need to rely now on the federal government for this grant that will allow us to remain solvent and come out of this," Cugno said.

SBA acknowledged the delay and said it was due in part to requirements that mandate extensive scrutiny and involve the review of up to 100 documents per applicant. 

"The SBA realizes the critical need to increase processing speed for shuttered venues applicants," regional spokesperson Matt Coleman said in a statement. "The current pace of awards is not reflective of the high standards that we strive to meet. we are committed to doing everything we can to improve funding speed."

After the National Independent Venue Association wrote a letter to Congress demanding the SBA speed up grant payment, word came that many venues will receive funding by July.

Owners of the theaters say it can't come soon enough.

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