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'We're drowning in debt': Michigan music venues galvanize to save concert industry

Several Michigan concert venues have laid down their competitive drive and teamed-up to create a trade group, hoping for $10 million in state aide to stay afloat.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Concert venues in Michigan have been among the most impacted by the pandemic, in terms of loss of business and revenue.

Several West Michigan venues have decided to lay down their competitive edge and teamed-up to form a trade group, lobbying for $10 million in grants to save the state's live music industry, which has been devastated by COVID-19.

"March 12th was our last show," said Scott Hammontree, who is an operating partner at 'The Intersection' in Grand Rapids, Mi. "This isn't just unique to The Intersection; it's for concert venues throughout Michigan and around the country."

Since The Intersection's last show 8 months ago, Hammontree says the venue has been hemorrhaging money.

"It was a barrage of canceled shows, postponed shows and rescheduled shows," said Hammontree, referring to the weeks and months after the initial statewide shutdown. "We had to furlough our entire staff."

Hammontree says The Intersection has had zero revenue since mid March and will likely experience 95% revenue loss for 2020.

"It's been absolutely devastating," he said.

In November, Hammontree, who is a member of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), decided a Michigan-based group needed to be formed with the hopes of pushing through legislation for state funding to save the industry.

"Its not our fault," said Hammontree. "We recognize that our spaces are not the greatest for curving the spread of COVID-19 or keeping the public safe, but we're forced to close."

In Late November, Hammontree, along with several other Michigan music venue and promoters, formed a new trade group - Michigan Independent Venue and Promoter Association (MIVPA) - which gives promoters and music venues a 'collective voice' as they fight to survive.

Credit: MIVPA
The MIVPA is a trade group, made up of Michigan music venues and promoters, hoping to get $10 million in state aide to save the concert business.

"We still have utilities, insurance to pay," said Hammontrree. "It still costs us $40,000 a month just to come to work everyday to an empty building."

The MIVPA group is calling upon state senators and representatives to push through legislation which will grant $10 million in aide to Michigan's concert venues.

"Venues are drivers of the Michigan economy," added Hammontree. "For every dollar that's spent at a concert venue on a ticket, they spend $12 around us [at various establishments]; it's a hotel; it's a cab ride; it's beer at the Tin Can; it's pre-show and/or post-show dinner somewhere downtown.

"What we're asking for isn't much pf what we contribute to the state's economy. Our venues have a $667 million impact on the Michigan economy, so we're asking for a little help to get to the other side."

The music venue industry is extremely competitive, as each venue tries to beat the other out for shows. The MIVPA is allowing each venue and promoter to set aside their competitive edge, allowing them to become one team in their fight.

"If all the venues are healthy, and by healthy, I mean able to reopen, it just helps the overall," said Hammontree. "If the Pyramid Scheme, Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake and 20 Monroe are both functioning, then it's better for business for all of us."

The MIPVA has hired a lobbying firm to help push through the legislation, with the head of the firm being former Michigan Republican Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Dave Hildebrand.

"We're just trying to let our legislators know that venues are still here, we're still closed, and we're drowning in debt," said Hammontree.

If you're interested in learning more about MIVPA and possibly helping the effort in some way, there are two separate links to check out: saveourstages.com

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