MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — There is hope that help could be on the way for one if the industries hit hardest by COVID-19.

Another stimulus bill called the HEROES Act is in the works in Washington. Some of the highlights include another round of $1,200 checks, and restoring the extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits.

Also tucked inside the bill is the “Save Our Stages” Act, which exists partly because of Minnesota. It would allocate $10 billion in grants for music venues, producers, promoters and talent representatives.

Each individual is able to apply for up to $12 million, along with a supplemental grant that is equal to 50% of the initial grant.

Ashley Ryan is the marketing director for First Avenue.

“These grants would potentially save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs,” Ryan said.

The iconic music venue in downtown Minneapolis is celebrating its 50th year of being in business. Thanks to the pandemic, it hasn’t hosted a concert in more than 200 days.

“The operating costs to maintain the building don’t end just because the concerts haven’t happened,” Ryan said. “What we know is we need a lifeline and we need it now.”

She says the previous stimulus packages didn’t include Save Our Stages, nor were they designed to help the live music industry.

“In the early stimulus package there were things like PPP [Paycheck Protection Program]. Everyone said, ‘Oh that’s gonna help small businesses, you don’t need anything special. We’ve got this other thing for you.’ Realistically for us, for other venues, PPP didn’t really cover it. We’re closed. We don’t have employees that are working like other businesses do,” Ryan said. “So we’re really excited that this updated HEROES Act actually includes the Save Our Stages.”

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), comprised of 2,800 music venues including First Avenue, has been the main lobbyist for the Save Our Stages Act. Audrey Fix Schaefer is NIVA’s communication director.

“We hope our elected officials come together on COVID-19 assistance in the coming days, not weeks or even months. Our small, independent businesses, which normally contribute billions of dollars to local economies, are on the precipice of mass collapse if this critical funding doesn’t come through,” Fix Schaefer said.

The impact of bill would go beyond the music venues. A recent study found for every $1 spent on a concert ticket at a small venue, $12 is generated for area businesses restaurants, hotels and transportation. That’s music to First Avenue’s ears.

“We want to make it to 51 [years], we want to make it to 50 more years after that,” Ryan said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar co-sponsored the Save Our Stages Act and released a statement saying in part, “Now that the new coronavirus relief bill includes Save Our Stages, we are one step closer to getting small entertainment venues the help they need to make ends meet and serve our communities for generations to come.”

The Heroes Act is still being negotiated in Washington. After meetings about the bill Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said they have made progress, and remain hopeful a deal can be reached.

Jeff Wagner

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