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Long Island venue owners see federal grant funds as way to restart the shows

A new federal grant will bring financial relief

A new federal grant will bring financial relief to many Long Island music and entertainment venues if they apply starting in early April. Credit: James Carbone

Owners of some performance venues on Long Island — a sector crushed by the pandemic — will soon be able to apply for $10 million in federal assistance as they reopen with limited capacity.

Several of those owners joined Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) Wednesday in Port Washington to show their support for getting a piece of the $16 billion "Shuttered Venue Operators Venue Grant."

"I never thought I’d be in position where we’d be looking for government help. It just doesn’t register in my mind," said Kevin O’Neill, owner of the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport.

O'Neill, who met with Suozzi and fellow small-venue owners at Landmark on Main Street, said the program will give his industry the "lifeline it really needs to get back to where it was, or even close to it."

Owners of small venues with fewer than 50 employees, like O'Neill, will be eligible to receive up to 45% of their pre-pandemic gross received revenue, or $10 million, whichever is less, Suozzi said in a statement.

At Wednesday’s event, Suozzi said: "This is a very real way that will affect these businesses and the real lives that are affected from the businesses, both the owners and their employees, but most importantly for all of us that want to get back to normal."

He added: "I always grew up appreciating how important music is and how important art is and how important theater is."

Others who attended included representatives from venues in Suozzi’s district like Laura Mogul, executive director of Landmark on Main Street, Jim Condron and Stephen Ubertini, two of the four co-owners of The Paramount in Huntington, and Michael Epstein, owner of My Father’s Place in Roslyn.

The federal grant program was established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, passed in December 2020, and later amended by the American Rescue Plan Act, Suozzi said.

The program will be administered by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance.

The application process begins on April 8 and allows for venue operators to apply for loans even if they have previously received funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Suozzi was lauded by O’Neill for advocating for the federal relief program to other lawmakers.

"He was critical," O’Neill said of Suozzi. "I nagged him daily. Texting. Emailing. Calling." O’Neill said the program could help keep his business open through the middle of June 2022.

He said venues like his, in New York State, will be allowed to open at a 100-person limit Thursday, when his theater holds 400.

"There is no way we can operate at anything less than 100% capacity," O’Neill said.