Local venues impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns receive rescue plan funds

August 19, 2021
In The News

At least nine local entertainment venues impacted by shutdowns last year due to COVID-19 received American Rescue Plan funds as part of the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program. 

According to a statement released Thursday by U.S. Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, the venues include Desert Theatreworks in Indio, the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Mary Pickford is D'Place in Cathedral City, the Fox Cineplex is D'Place in Banning and the Palm Springs Air Museum. 

“The pandemic caused great hardships for many performing arts and museum venues, small business owners and their employees”, said Ruiz in a prepared statement. “The American Rescue Plan’s expanded Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program is a lifeline for our local theaters and stages, and I am glad that the Small Business Administration heeded my calls to quickly get this aid into the pockets of our small business owners. Now, thanks to these vital funds, our economy and tourism are supported and jobs are retained for residents of the 36th District.”

The statement included the specific amount of money received by five of the local venues:
•    Desert Theatreworks: $250,000
•    McCallum Theatre: $3.8 million 
•    Mary Pickford is D'Place: $2.6 million 
•    Fox Cineplex is D'Place: $450,000 
•    The Palm Springs Air Museum: $1 million

Also included but without any details as to how much money was received were The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, Coachella Valley Repertory in Cathedral City, The Palm Springs Art Museum and Dezart Performs in Palm Springs. 

As previously reported by USA TODAY, applications for the grant money from the $16.2 billion in American Rescue Plan funds opened in April. Eligibility included live venue operators or promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organizations, museums, movie theaters and talent representatives. 

Here is how much of the grant money was disbursed in the 36th district of California.
•    Live performing arts organization operators: $800,000
•    Live venue operators and promoters: $9.6 million
•    Motion picture theater operator: $300,000
•    Museum operators: $5.7 million
•    Talent representatives: $2.2 million

Ron Phillips-Martinez Chief Executive Officer of Desert Theatreworks said the grant "allows us to restart the business and I'm happy we got it." He described the application process as "cumbersome" and was navigated through the process by colleagues in a Facebook group. 

"Everybody tried to help each other and navigate where they were in the process," Phillips-Martinez said. "It took us 10 weeks to get an answer, and when you're already on the precipice as many other companies, that's a long time." 

Damon Rubio, President of D'Place Entertainment, said he lobbied and advocated for a rescue plan to help venue owners in 2020 and described the setbacks he experienced through the application process as "demoralizing." 

"There were times where -- not so much for the Mary Pickford but for the Fox Cineplex -- where I was just like 'Are we just going to have to file for bankruptcy and walk away from that location?'" 

Even when theaters began to reopen in June as the state of California fully reopened, Rubio said the revenue is nowhere near where it should be, adding that one of his San Diego locations that did $1.46 million in revenue from March to August 2019 is only at $135,000 this year. 

Rubio calls it a "perfect storm" of many factors, such as same-day streaming of new releases, the delta variant and studios holding back releases. 

"People are just not comfortable going to the movies yet, and you have all these films that are supposed to be big releases also being released (on streaming platforms the same day)," Rubio said. "If I'm concerned about going out in the slightest and can still watch it at home, what's my incentive? You also have studios holding back on some of that content and saying they aren't going to release it in a timely manner." 

Still, the funds will help catch up on expenses such as rent and mortgage payments, utility bills and and other monthly expenses when there wasn't any income. 

"It was wonderful to finally get approved and it was even better to see the funds dispersed," Rubio said.