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West Michigan venues eager for financial relief after being closed since March

Posted at 10:24 PM, Dec 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-21 22:24:48-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With a COVID-19 relief package now on its way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer and another about to be approved at the federal level by Congress, the live entertainment industry in West Michigan is feeling cautiously optimistic.

“I definitely felt a lightness,” said Tami VandenBerg, co-owner of The Pyramid Scheme. “There’s still a lot of things to figure out, [like] how is it going to be distributed, who’s going to get it, how much is going to go to each venue, but you know…it was a massive win.”

The Michigan legislature approved a $3.5 million grant program Monday. It gives concert venues, theaters, comedy clubs, etc upwards of $40,000. Venues, for the most part, have been closed since March.

Congress is also preparing to vote on a stimulus package which would provide an additional $15 billion dollars through the Save Our Stages Act.

”Music venues have been hit incredibly hard and we were some of the first to close and we will be the last to open,” said VandenBerg. “I think it’s perfectly appropriate that we receive some state and federal funds.”

Vandenberg estimates The Pyramid Scheme’s revenue is down 80 percent this year. She hopes to use assistance toward rent, utilities, and insurance.

“We’re not asking to replace our revenue,” said Vandenberg. “We’re just asking to help us pay a few of our bills so that we can hold onto spring or summer.”

Earlier this year, the National Independent Venue Association said 90 percent of its members would permanently close without help.

Scott Hammontree, a NIVA representative and co-owner of The Intersection, says in addition to the cultural impact, the live entertainment industry contributes $667 million to Michigan’s economy.

“It’s a life jacket,” said Hammontree. “That's gonna save us, it’s gonna save concert venues and promoters, not just here in Michigan, but throughout the whole country.”

The final verbiage is being negotiated, but to qualify, businesses will have to make a certain percentage of their revenue through ticketed events and have lost a percentage of that during the pandemic.

At this time, there is no date set as to when the Michigan assistance program will start accepting applications.