Arts and Culture

There’s a new national relief fund for shuttered live venues and a popular Louisville concert space is the first beneficiary. 

Real estate company Grubb Properties has partnered with Dayna Frank, CEO of the storied Minneapolis venue First Avenue, to establish the Live Venue Recovery Fund.

Through this new program, fund partners will purchase the venue’s building in order to provide economic relief to the business, with the goal of operator ownership within the next several years as part of the contract.

Louisville’s Headliners Music Hall is the first venue to enter into such an agreement with the fund. 

Headlines co-owner Joe Argabrite said this support is critical. He and his partner, Billy Hardison, put their building up for sale over the summer. 

“We just couldn’t… bring ourselves to go down without every possible swing we had in us,” Argabrite said.

The fund also fronted Headliners about $100,000 for much needed renovations, he added, including to the HVAC system and interior upgrades.

Grubb Properties typically focuses on residential and office spaces, but in a press release, CEO Clay Grubb said it was his love for live music that made him want to get involved.

“I’m a life-long live music fan and understand how important these venues are to the vibrancy of the communities in which they operate,” Grubb said.

Frank said, in the release, that this fund “will be instrumental in ensuring the long-term viability and independence of some of this country’s most influential music venues.”

Grubb and Frank met at the Aspen Institute in early 2020 and, when the pandemic hit, they started talking about ways to provide relief to an industry that’s been largely shuttered

The fund partners are in conversation with Exit/In in Nashville, Tenn., and Emily Ethridge, corporate communications director for Grubb Properties, said they’re currently looking at more than 20 independently operated venues for the fund.

“Everyone is in a different situation, everyone needs different things or has different bills or different upgrades to make,” Ethridge said. “So we’re really working individually with each one to make a good plan.”

But it is a real estate fund with investors, so investors will expect a return.

Ethridge said they’re thinking of it as an “impact investment.” 

“People are doing this to help these kinds of venues across the country,” she continued. “You don’t want to have a cookie cutter live show experience. In every city and in every neighborhood in America, you’ve got to have these independent venues to keep it vibrant and diverse.”

Any monetary returns that exceed 12% will be donated to the National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA, Ethridge said. 

Argabrite said the “idea that we can come back better than pre-COVID” is an exciting proposition, but the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program, administered through the Small Business Administration, is still needed to make it to the other side of the pandemic. 

The grant program has yet to start accepting applications.

“So although the bill has been passed, and it was a huge victory, it’s only as good as putting money into all of our hands that are desperately clinging to a future,” he said.

Earlier this week, NIVA released a statement, thanking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for amending the SVOG provision to allow eligible venues and organizations to also apply for the second round of Paycheck Protection Program grants while they wait for the shuttered venue grants to open; the previous language did not permit it.

“This change can save countless venues from bankruptcy, as the immediate PPP2 money will help them hold on until the SVOG funds flow,” Frank said in a NIVA press release.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.