Twin cities theatres hopeful to receive grant from Small Business Administration

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BLOOMINGTON-NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — The show must go on; theaters and performing arts centers are now eligible for pandemic relief from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant sets aside billions of dollars to help struggling theaters, museums and live venue operators.

Local theater operators in the twin cities said even just a portion of $16 billion from the Small Business Administration’s grant can keep the shows going on and the popcorn popped.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters across central Illinois to close their doors for more than a year, leading to empty seats and empty pocketbooks. The Town of Normal’s cultural arts director Beth Whisman said no incoming money made many places consider shutting down for good.

“Though we are part of the town, losing that much revenue is still a big hit. That meant we had no money to recoup any of our costs, cut part-time staff,” Whisman said. “We were offering virtual cinema, but none of that can really replace what we lost.”

Now after months of waiting, places like the Normal Theatre in Uptown can apply for some help. Monday, the SBA opened applications for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program in order to help theaters and other local live event venues who’ve been negatively impacted by COVID-19 closures.

Whisman said talks about the grant have been happening since December and once it opened months later, Normal Theatre applied right away.

“We’ll never be able to go back, we cant go back and get back what we lost. We’ll never be fully restored from what COVID did, but we can bounce back, but we can take this relief and move forward,” Whisman said.

Bloomington’s Castle Theatre in downtown has been closed since last March. General Manager Rory O’Connor said they have acts set up for May.

“We know we qualify, it’s just a matter of making sure we get through the system I guess,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor said the acts in May will only have a capacity of 175 people and will be the first time in 14 months that people have come through the theater doors.

“Not that we’re a very big machine, but a machine runs and when you shut it down, sometimes it’s just hard to get it started again so we’re excited to start the engine,” O’Connor said.

To qualify, businesses must have been in operation as of February 29, 2020. The first 14 days of the program are reserved for operations that lost 90% of revenue from April 2020-Dec 2020.

Both the Normal and Castle Theater and all other applicants are eligible for up to 45% of their yearly income up to $10 million.

A full list of requirements for applicants can be found on the Small Business Administration’s website.

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