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Euclid Democrat's Statehouse Bill Seeks To Prop Up Small Music Venues

The stage at Happy Dog in Cleveland has been empty since March. [Tony Cross]
photo of happy dog stage

A new bill in the Ohio House of Representatives would offer $20 million in federal coronavirus stimulus funding to independent music venues.

The bill’s co-author, state Rep. Kent Smith (D-Euclid), said such venues have fallen through the cracks of CARES Act funding so far, especially after the last round of money that went to museums and other cultural institutions.

“They didn’t qualify because they’re small businesses, they’re not non-profits,” Smith said. “And these are cultural landmarks, these are neighborhood economic development assets, they bring in thousands of people during the course of the year.”

Smith co-authored the bill, HB 785, with Concord Republican Rep. Jamie Callendar. If approved, Ohio-based music venues that have lost 75 percent of annual revenues because of the pandemic would be eligible for grants of up to $200,000.

The money could to toward a wide range of business expenses, including payroll, rent, loan payments, COVID-19-related renovations and personal protective equipment.

“I think there just needs to be an honest acknowledgement that these are significant assets, there’s 150 of these [venues] across the state of Ohio,” Smith said.

In late October, Gov. Mike DeWine’s office announced its most recent round of CARES Act funding distributions. The recipients of $125 million in funding included bars and restaurants, community organizations assisting people behind in rent and utility payments, rural hospitals, higher education and $20 million for non-profit cultural institutions.

DeWine could announce funding for music venues, but Smith hopes to pass a bill by the end of the year to show bipartisan support for the businesses.

“Part of what ‘We’re All In This Together’ means is that there’s some shared sacrifice,” Smith said. “And small music venues and other folks that are in kind of the crowd-size industry have probably sacrificed more than most.”

In a normal year, during a lame duck session like the state legislature is in right now, Smith said the bill’s supporters would be having face-to-face meetings seeking legislators’ support for the aid bill. But, he added, he and Callendar hope to attach it to another bill that is likely to pass by the end of the year.

“We think that this type of institution is probably in the majority of districts and senate districts across the state, so we just needed to create the legislation,” Smith said.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.