LIMA — Entertainment venues were among the hardest hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, but live shows are finally coming back. In Lima, the Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center is set to play host to a variety of shows in what they are calling their “comeback season.”
Part of the comeback season was made possible by a big dose of federal funding.
As part of the American Rescue Plan Act, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio cosponsored the Save Our Stages legislation, meant to help entertainment venues bounce back from the pandemic. The legislation sprouted the Shuttered Venue Operator Grants (SVOG) that saw over $300 million in relief funding for more than 400 Ohio venues.
Brown was in Lima on Thursday to visit the Civic Center as the Lima Symphony Orchestra gets ready for a Saturday night performance that will be the first live show for the players and the venue since the pandemic began. The Civic Center received $400,000 in SVOG funding and the orchestra received an additional $130,000 in funding from the bill.
With no tickets to sell and no ability to get a PPP loan because the venue is owned by Allen County, Civic Center CEO Abe Ambroza said that the SVOG loan made a major difference in keeping the lights on.
“If these dollars weren’t coming in, we would still be cut back to half time staff. We wouldn’t be open all the time,” Ambroza said. “We’ve got a lot of customers in the community that want to book events with us, whether it’s a special event of a birthday party, anniversaries, wedding receptions and different things we want to be able to hold for them. We didn’t have the ability to pay for staff to be here and answer those phones and execute those events.”
Lima Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Elizabeth Brown-Ellis said that the money allowed the orchestra to continue to play virtually over the last 20 months.
“We were able to pay our musicians, we were able to bring hope and healing to our community through music, but we released most of these programs free and it was incredibly expensive for us,” she said. “The (SVOG) really truly was our lifeline, and the only way that we were able to continue and move forward to bring live concerts like the one we’re going to do this weekend.”
Brown was happy to see the Civic Center up and running again, and spoke about the importance of arts venues to the communities and local economies.
“This is a lot of revenue for the community. It’s tourist dollars, it’s putting people to work, it’s the trades building things, it’s all of that,” Brown said. “It’s good for the economy and it’s good for just the social enrichment of all of us, whether we partake as much in the arts as some or others, but it matters to everybody.”
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