Venues facing uncertain future

Independent operators are asking government for specific assistance programs.
455
The stages at The Intersection have remained empty since March 12 and venue operators have very little information on when that will change. Courtesy Chad Verwey

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) They were the first to close and they might be the last to open as states try to restart their economies.

With no concerts, sports events and live shows to attend, the closure of entertainment venues amid the COVID-19 pandemic has left a void in the lives of most people. Owners of entertainment venues such as The Intersection, The Pyramid Scheme, DeVos Place, DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena closed their doors in March and only time will tell when they will reopen.

The federal government unveiled a three-phase plan. The first phase allows for large venues to open under strict social distancing guidelines. However, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has not provided any indication of when she will open up large venues in Michigan.

Scott Hammontree, partner and talent buyer for The Intersection, which is located in downtown Grand Rapids, said they closed on March 12 during a time when the venue is busiest, which is usually from September until mid-May. He said the venue books about 320 concerts per year, with an average of 28 per month.

“We had a month in March that may have been our best month we have ever had, but it got totally destroyed by having to be shut down. We were definitely on pace for our best year ever at The Intersection with the way all of the bookings were going and attendance. We were going to have an amazing year. We were definitely going to have a near-record year for sure.”

Just a few weeks later, Hammontree said he is concerned about the viability of his business. 

“We gross over $5.5 million per year,” he said. “Every day I wake up and look at where we are financially, what everything looks like across the country, follow-up with the information online and watch the news. We just have to stay diligent and balance our finances to what we have. We are committed to reopening and that will be the fight. That is what we are (hoping) for, to be able to sustain ourselves until we are allowed to return to normal.”

The Intersection and The Pyramid Scheme are among more than 800 independent music venues across the country that have joined the National Independent Venue Association. The association wrote a letter to Congress in late April advocating for “targeted legislative and regulatory assistance.”

“Without your help, thousands of independent venues will not survive to the day when our doors can open to the public again,” the letter stated. “While we have no income, we do have essential employees, employee benefits, debts with personal guarantees, rents or mortgages, utilities, insurance, local, state and federal taxes, and the massive burden of ticket refunds for more than 100,000 canceled shows due to COVID-19.”

The group would like the government to do multiple things, including modifying the existing PPP program to provide built-in flexible loan forgiveness by allowing the use of loan proceeds on payroll, rent, utilities, ticket refunds, working capital, insurance and debt obligations with no minimums on the percentage dedicated to any one expense; and waiving the requirement for loan forgiveness to be contingent on employee retention if companies have no work to offer employees.

Richard MacKeigan, SMG general manager for Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall, said they are not lobbying the government to open the entertainment venues early, but have had dialogue with the state to provide an insight into the industry’s thoughts about reopening.

According to MacKeigan, there have been a number of events that have either been postponed, canceled or rescheduled at the arena, performance hall and convention center for later this year and even next year. All of the full-time employees who work for ASM Grand Rapids — about 70 individuals — are in “some sort of furlough position.”

MacKeigan said the buildings are civically owned and the Convention Arena Authority acts as the owner of the facilities.

“The arena has bonds that are being paid by the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority and the convention center has bonds that are being paid by Kent County,” he said.

Facebook Comments