Crushed by COVID, local entertainment venues ask Gov. Evers for grant to stay afloat

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A group of independent live entertainment venues are getting together and asking Governor Tony Evers to consider implementing a grant that would help them stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group is also asking for the community's help with the push.

The Pabst Theater Group has been closed since mid-March. The company says they've lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We were the very first ones to close and we will be the last ones to open up," said Gary Witt, CEO and president of Pabst Theater Group.

Between their five venues, the Pabst Theater Group does 700 shows every year in the city of Milwaukee.

Thirty-percent of the people attending the events come from below the state line.

"We also contribute about a quarter of a billion dollars to the city's economy, so people who come to town and stay in a hotel or rent a car or go out to a restaurant or go to a bar," he added.

Witt is just one venue group out of more than 70 in the state who is part of Wisconsin's National Independent Venue Association.

The NIVA is petitioning Gov. Tony Evers to set aside less than $10 million of CARES Act funding for the Live Entertainment Grant Program, which would help venues get by until they can open again.

"These old buildings take a lot of energy to be able to keep up, you know, we have rents, mortgages that are due, as well as insurance," Witt said.

"There's so many workers, from the door people here, the security, stage hands have no work and catering people, so it's a really trickle-down effect," said Peter Jest, owner of Shank Hall.

Witt says states like Montana, Oregon, Texas and Tennessee have help supporting their live entertainment venues.

Meanwhile, smaller venues in Milwaukee are worried they may be on the verge of shutting down.

"Trying to keep paying foundational bills and hope to make it through this very difficult time, there's venues across the country that are comparably sized that are closing," said Kelsey Kaufmann, owner of Cactus Club.

"It would help us stay here because a lot of them won't reopen and it would be much harder to build something from scratch," added Jest.

So far, the online petition has garnered nearly 9,000 signatures.

"I'm just encouraging folks to ask questions of their representatives and get involved," Kaufmann said.

"We know that the governor is aware of what our contribution is to the city, and we're hopeful that they'll be able to assist us as some other states have," said Witt.

Witt says he knows for sure his theaters will not be able to open their doors for the rest of the year. 

He hopes the industry will be able to come back to life by the middle of next year at the earliest.


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