After more than a year, an outdoor amphitheater in Santa Barbara remains closed to visitors because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The Santa Barbara Bowl, at 1122 N. Milpas St., sat silent on Thursday.
Officials said the venue that seats more than 4,500 people has created economic, social and cultural change in Santa Barbara County, but it has been unable to generate needed income since March 2020.
“COVID hit us like a ton of bricks last year,” Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation board chairman Tobe Plough said. “We were supposed to open our season last March. We have been essentially dark since then.”
A new grant program is expected to provide vital relief for shuttered live venue operators and give eligible businesses offering live events, including theaters, some museum operators, zoos and aquariums, the assistance to overcome financial hardships created by the pandemic.
“There’s criteria that is put forth as to how different applications will be evaluated,” Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, said. “I would assume those funds would start flowing as soon as possible.”
Carbajal visited the Santa Barbara Bowl to hear about its operations amid the public health crisis, and he shared information about the grant.
The program — established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act and amended by the COVID-19 economic aid package (American Rescue Plan Act) passed in December — includes more than $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues. The U.S. Small Business Administration will administer funding.
“The grant program will have a direct benefit to help our economy,” Carbajal said, “ensuring venues like the Santa Barbara Bowl will be here for generations to come and continue to enrich our communities.”
Funding may be used for payroll costs, rent payments, utility payments, worker protection expenditures and other expenses outlined on the Small Business Administration’s website here.
“The Santa Barbara Bowl, like many music venues, provides many economic and cultural benefits to our community,” Carbajal said. “I’m glad to serve as a federal partner to ensure that cultural institutions in our region not only survive, but thrive.”
The Santa Barbara Bowl is an important piece of the vibrant arts and entertainment culture in the community, and the SVOG will assist the historic outdoor amphitheater until “we are on the other side of this pandemic,” Carbajal added.
For the first time since the nonprofit organization’s formation in 1981, the Santa Barbara Bowl has been unable to host a concert season for an extended time because of the pandemic, according to the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation.
SVOG funding will help the Santa Barbara Bowl stay afloat as well as cover expenses to open its doors again to guests, including employee-related payroll, maintenance, utilities and insurance, said Rick Boller, executive director of the Santa Barbara Bowl Foundation.
Officials compiled a community impact report highlighting how the pandemic has affected the venue and how the SVOG would ensure the Santa Barbara Bowl is able to survive and continue to benefit the area.
“Right now, we are focused on when it comes time to reopen and being able to get back to business,” Boller said, mentioning the Santa Barbara Bowl is following public health guidance issued by the State of California and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department. “As soon as we are able to, we are poised to do so.”
Like many businesses across Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Bowl experienced a series of ups and downs because of the state-issued coronavirus-related closures.
In response to questions from Noozhawk, Boller spoke of when the Santa Barbara Bowl hopes to safely reopen. The time frame depends on several factors.
“When the pandemic first came on, not realizing exactly how long it would last, but here we are,” he said. “We are forecasting and hoping to get back to business in the fall. Everything will need to fall into place with the guidance, case counts, vaccinations and everything that goes along with that.”
The SVOG program was established through the bipartisan COVID-19 relief package passed in December. As a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Carbajal was part of the bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who crafted the framework the relief package was built on, according to a statement issued by his office.
Carbajal helped secure additional funding for the SVOG program through the American Rescue Plan, the statement said.
The COVID-19 stimulus package instituted a fix to ensure that shuttered venues that received Paycheck Protection Program loans after Dec. 27, 2020, also can receive the SVOG as long as the grant is reduced by the amount of PPP funds provided.
Applying for both grant programs was previously prohibited, according to Carbajal’s office.