As the government prepared Thursday to start accepting requests for a $ 16 billion relief fund of dollars for music clubs, theaters and other live event businesses, thousands of desperate applicants eagerly awaited to submit their documents at noon, when the system was due to open.
And then they waited. And I waited. Almost four hours later, the system was still not working at all, sending the candidates into spasms of anxiety.
"It 's an absolute disaster ", Eric Sosa, owner of C ' my Everybody, a Brooklyn club, tweeted to the agency.
Shortly after 4 p.m., the Small Business Administration - which is leading the initiative, the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program - abandoned its efforts to recover the system broken down and shut it down for the day. No request has been processed.
"Technical issues arose despite several successful tests of the application process," said Andrea Roebker, spokesperson for the agency, in a statement written.
After discussions with the vendors who built the system, the agency decided to "close the portal to ensure fair and equal access once reopened because it is on a first come, first serve basis, "said Ms Roebker." This decision was not taken lightly as we understand the need to bring relief to this industry quickly badly hit.
"It's hard to hear " help is in road "and not being able to apply " said Tom Weyman, director of programming at Columbus Theater in Providence, RI. "I don't think of us thought the application process would be completely smooth, but it is life or death for our sites. "
The collapse echoed problems the agency faced over the past year in accepting applications for the human rights protection program.paychecks, which he also supervised. When this program opened, the agency 's overwhelmed systems seized up - and the same thing happened again , weeks later, when a new round of funding has become available.
Applicants for the grant program were in disbelief that the agency was not better prepared - especially because funds must be distributed according to the order in which people apply. Those who receive their application early have the best chance of getting help before the money runs out.
"This pits sites against each other because we're all crazy for it " said Brooklyn club owner Mr. Sosa , in an interview. "And he does notshould not be so. We are all a community.
For companies like Crowbar, a music club in Tampa, Florida, getting a grant is about survival. Tom DeGeorge, Crowbar's primary owner, took more than $ 200,000 in personal loans to keep the business afloat after it closed last year, including one using his liquor license as collateral.
Over a year later, the club reopened with a handful of low capacity events, but the business is still operating in the red, DeGeorge said.
"We wasted an entire year of concerts in the blink of an eye, which was almost a million dollars in revenue " said DeGeorge. "That 's why we need this grant so badly.
Help has been authorized by the Congrès at the end of last year after months of lobbying by a hoc coalition announcement of concert halls and other groups who have warned of the loss of an entire sector of the artistic economy.
For music venues in particular, the past year has been a rush to stay afloat, with local club owners leading crowdfunding campaigns, selling t-shirts and racking their brains for a creative way to raise money. For the holidays, the Chicago Underground Club, for example, agreed to place the names of patrons on its marquee for donations of $ 250 or more.
"This has been the busiest year " said Robert Gomez, the main owner of Subterranean, in an interview. "MayIt's all about: 'Where am I going to get funds from? ' Image As it struggled to make ends meet, the Chicago Subterranean club decided to place the names of the customers onthe club marquee for donations of $ 250 or more. Robert Gomez, its main owner, said the year had been “where am I going to get funding from?” Credit ... Lyndon French for Hfrance.fr
Even before Thursday's fiasco The opening of the pr ogram closed room was fraught with complexity and confusion.
The Small Business Administration released a 58-page guide for applicants late Wednesday night, then quickly took it offline. A revised version of the guide was released a few minutes before the portal opened on Thursday. (A spokeswoman for the agency said the guide should be updated to reflect "some last minute system changes".)
And lesstwo hours before the agency is supposed to start accepting applications, its Inspector General sent an alert warning of "serious problems " with the program's waste and fraud controls. The Small Business Administration's current audit plan "exposes billions of dollars to possible misuse of funds," Inspector General says written in a report .
Successful applicants will receive a grant equal to 45% of their gross earned income as of 2019, up to $ 10 million. Those who lost 90% of theThose who returned (compared to the previous year) after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic will have a priority window of 14 days to receive the money, followed by another 14 days for those who lost 70% or more. If funds remain after that, they will go to applicants who have experienced a 25% loss in sales in at least one quarter of 2020. Sites owned by large companies, like Live Nation or AEG, are not eligible.
The application process is extensive, with detailed questions about budgets, staff and site equipment.
"They want to make sure that you don't just set up a piano in the corner of an Italian restaurant and call you a concert hall, ”said Blayne Tucker, attorney for several musical venues in Texas. Image Technical issues spoiled the start of the first day of submitting applications for the grant program. Empty chairs have been seen in Crowbar. Credit ... Zack Wittman for le Hfrance.fr
Even with subsidies, concert halls can face many dry months before tours and live events return to pre-pandemic levels.
The grant program also provides support to Broadway theaters, performing arts centers and even zoos, which share many of thesame economic struggles.
The Pablo de la Confluence Center in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, for example, was able to raise around $ 1 million through donations and grants during the pandemic , but it's still $ 1.2 million missing from its annual fixed operating costs, said Jason Jon Anderson, its executive director.
"By the time we reopen, in October 2021 at the earliest, we will have been closed longer than we had been " , he added. (The center opened in 2018, at a cost of $ 60 million.)
The thousands of small clubs that dot the national concert map have no access to major donors and in many cases they have survived on the fumes for months.
Stephen Chilton, owner of the 300-seat Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, said he had rStretched out a few hundred thousand loans to keep the club afloat. In October, it reopened with a pop-up cafe inside, and the club hosts events, like quiz contests and talk shows. mike open.
"We are losing a lot less than what we were losing when we were completely off," said Mr Chilton, "but that doesn't make up for it. not the income lost by doing the events.
The Rebel Lounge is hoping a grant will help it survive until it can bring back a full range of concerts. What if its application fails?
"There is no plan B ", said Mr Chilton.