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Bullock tosses lifeline to live entertainment industry in hopes of saving culture, venues

The coronavirus pandemic has decimated Montana’s live entertainment industry, including the state’s musical heart in Missoula. Gov. Steve Bullock offered assistance on Wednesday, saying that without additional support, “we risk losing those venues permanently.” (William Munoz/Missoula Current file photo)

Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday said he’ll direct $10 million in relief funds to help Montana’s live entertainment industry, which has been decimated by coronavirus closures, resulting in hundreds of unemployed workers and tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Last week, a handful of U.S. Senators, including Sen. Jon Tester, announced their plans to introduce a similar relief measure in Congress to aid the live entertainment industry and the cost it now faces in ticket refunds stemming from cancelled acts.

“Essentially every other business type has been able to reopen in some capacity, and has seen some portion of their normal revenue at this point, except for the live entertainment industry,” Bullock said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Without additional support for our live entertainment venues, we risk losing those venues permanently.”

Bullock said the Live Entertainment Grant Program will provide up to 25% of a business’ gross revenue in 2019, or a maximum $1 million per applicant.

Businesses and nonprofits rooted in the live entertainment industry qualify for relief, so long as their primary source of revenue comes from live events. At least 33% of their 2019 revenue must have resulted from ticket sales.

“These businesses are fundamental to the quality of life we enjoy, and they employ hundreds of workers,” Bullock said. “But since large groups can’t gather, acts aren’t touring and it’s not smart public health to risk a virus by attending large entertainment events, their revenues have been driven to zero.”

The absence of live entertainment has been striking in Missoula, which usually bustles with large concerts spread across a number of summer venues. The economic stimulus of those live shows spins off to surrounding businesses, from hotels to restaurants.

Logjam Presents, which owns the Top Hat, The Wilma and the Kettlehouse Amphitheater, has been forced to cancel most live acts this year. Logjam owner Nick Checota last week announced his support for federal legislation proposed by Tester and Tom Carper, D-Delaware.

The Entertainments New Credit Opportunity for Relief & Economic Sustainability, or ENCORES Act, would create a new tax credit for live entertainment venues with fewer than 500 employees. It would help cover the cost of refunded tickets for shows that were canceled due to the pandemic.

“Independent venues support surrounding local businesses and help foster the careers of performing artists,” Checota said. “These small businesses contribute to thriving communities, and this legislation will help our industry navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure we are still here on the other side to continue that work.”

In Wednesday’s call, Bullock also said he’ll double the funds available in the Business Stabilization Grant Program to provide working capital for small businesses that have seen their revenue decline as a result of the pandemic.

He said nearly 8,000 businesses that have already been awarded a Business Stabilization Grant are eligible to receive a second payment that’s equal to the first. Eligible businesses will be contacted by the Montana Department of Commerce via email.