Community, Local Business April 13, 2021

Failure to launch: Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application is delayed after months of anticipation

by Gabe Allen

For the past three-and-a-half months, independent venue owners around the country have anxiously awaited an application for the now $16 billion in grant funds that the U.S. Congress allocated to “shuttered venues” at the end of last year, otherwise known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG).

“We’ve been anticipating this day for the past six months,”  owner of the Moxi Theater, Ely Corliss said in a statement to BandWagon Magazine.

On Thursday, April 8th the Small Business Administration finally launched an application portal for the grant at noon. But when entertainment entrepreneurs all over the country attempted to log on and apply for funds, the system immediately crashed. 

“I am unaware of anyone who has been able to upload a document,” Tennessee entrepreneur Michael Strickland told Inc. Magazine.

The SBA shut the portal back down at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 8th, just a few hours after it had opened. In a tweet, the organization explained that it had not received or processed a single application.

A later tweet reasoned that “the portal was shut down to ensure fair and equal access once it is reopened.”

Meanwhile, venue owners have banded together in the face of economic adversity and bureaucratic ineptitude.

“We are so proud of our community for the mutual support we saw yesterday,” National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) state of Colorado chair Chris Zacher wrote in an email to owners. “People jumping in to answer questions, share knowledge, hold each other up – you don’t often (ever) see this during a grant program.”

Although the technical problem remains unclear to the general public, the SBA says that its vendor for the application portal has identified the issue and is working to fix it. Zacher says that the SBA has also promised to give advanced notice to organizations like NIVA, so that venue owners are ready when the application opens again.

“There’s no need to be refreshing. You’ll get advanced warning and prep,” he wrote.

As of today, Tuesday April 13th, the SVOG portal is still offline and no grants have been applied for or awarded. On the SBA’s website a statement reads, “SBA is still working to determine an exact reopening date for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal. As soon as it is confirmed, we will provide advance notice…”

Corliss went on to say “The SBA has had at least (6 months) to prepare for this day. The fact that the website crashed on launch day and still isn’t back online is very concerning, frustrating, and completely unacceptable.”

For now, independent club, theater and cafe owners all over the country will once again have to wait for an uncertain length of time before they can apply for much-needed federal aid.