–By Myron Martin
It is always a pleasure to offer a column for Vegas Legal Magazine. This edition is different as the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our community and our country. I was forced to furlough 75% of the Smith Center team and cut pay for everyone else while cutting operational costs dramatically. My experience is not that different from many others in Las Vegas. Businesses are closed, and some may not reopen. Casino employees and hospitality workers are largely standing on the sideline, and restauranteurs are hanging on in hopes that they can fully reopen in order to bring back their employees and their guests. Our city has been devastated.
The Smith Center was one of the first to close, and will no doubt be one of the very last to re-open. Having to postpone Hamilton and many other shows broke my heart. But we will wait until it is safe to fully open. Theaters are not a good place for social distancing. Not only do we need approximately 90% occupancy to break even on most shows, but the magic of theater comes from being surrounded by people and having a shared experience. When you’re at the theater, you laugh and everyone around you laughs. You cry and realize you’re not alone. So, we will wait until we can give you a fully engaging theater experience.
We will stay dark until the experts tell us that it is safe, and our Governor tells us that we may reopen. In the meantime, we are working through and refining our plan (currently 52 pages) that will guide our reopening. We have invested in electrostatic cleaners, plexiglass, touchless payment systems, sanitizer stations, and numerous other upgrades as a result of the Coronavirus. The limited number of staff members who enter the doors of The Smith Center right now go through a protocol that includes taking of temperature, using sanitizers, and wearing masks. We will be forced to make tough decisions when we return. For example, we know that our regular patrons love their reusable cups (I call them adult sippy cups) that they can take home, wash and return to our bars for reuse. However, we are told that reusable cups will not be acceptable in terms of public health when we reopen. We will, of course, follow all direction from health authorities and at this point I fully expect that certain items like masks may still be required when we return. We have contingency plans for the bars, for ticket scanning, and for staggered entry if needed. The whole world is anxious to hear about vaccines and treatments, and I believe that our opening would certainly be helped by therapeutics and a vaccine. Some theater professionals are even discussing the use of quick tests for staff and backstage folks, and maybe even audience members as well. I’m not sure that testing guests will be part of our reality, but it shows the level of detail that our industry is including in their evaluations and discussions. We will be ready when you are.
We continue to raise money every day. Even after all the cuts, we still have significant monthly expenses and we have no revenue coming in from ticket sales. As a non-profit organization, I am thankful for the number of Smith Center friends who have made financial contributions and have donated their unused tickets to our emergency fund. If you appreciate what The Smith Center has done for the community, I encourage you to contribute what you can. We will also continue to pursue legislative support. A number of Congressional Acts currently under consideration could help us greatly. I encourage you to show your support.
The RESTART ACT & SAVE OUR STAGES (SOS) ACT are being considered as part of the next CARES Bill. Both pieces of legislation have the potential of providing significant financial support to the nonprofit arts & cultural sector across our country.
The RESTART Act, introduced by Senator Michael F. Bennet (D-CO) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) would create a new loan program, with some provisions around loan forgiveness, that would provide funding to cover six months of payroll, benefits, and operating expenses for organizations like ours that have taken a substantial revenue hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The RESTART Act intends to help smaller nonprofit businesses (less than 500 full time employees).
The Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, just introduced by Senators Cornyn (R-TX) and Klobuchar (D-MN), would create a $10 billion grant program for independent live venue operators. These grants offer at least six months of financial support, pay employees, and preserve this critical economic sector for our communities across the country. Our Congressional delegation is supportive, and you can help by adding your name at www.SaveOurStages.com. It only takes a minute. All you do is type in your name and email address. The website does the rest for you.
Thank you all for your encouragement through the years. The Smith Center will return whenever it is deemed safe, and thanks to lessons learned during the pandemic, I believe that we will be better than ever.
Until we see you again in person, please stay safe.