After almost ten months of sitting dark, with many operators going deep into debt as they continue paying rent, San Francisco's nightlife industry needs an enormous helping hand to get back on its feet. And one city supervisor hopes to create a nightlife fund that will attract private-sector donations so that the city doesn't lose one of its greatest cultural assets before the pandemic is through with us.
A new $15 billion grant fund for cultural institutions is part of the $900 billion federal stimulus package that is likely to be passed shortly in the Senate. Nightclubs — particularly those known to be music venues — that have lost 90% of their revenue since the beginning of pandemic lockdowns get to be first in line to apply for the grants. But it remains to be seen how far and wide the money will get distributed — or if Broadway theaters and other large institutions might take the lion's share of the money.
It's also unclear how quickly those funds will get into the hands of struggling venue operators, and SF Supervisor Matt Haney says that the city needs a special nightlife fund to address the urgent need locally.
"It may be next year, late next year before that [grant] money gets to businesses like theaters, like music venues and what they told us is that might be too late, so my hope is we can start this fund, get some city money in it, however, limited, some private funds, some federal money that might come into local governments and then we can bridge these businesses so they can stay afloat," Haney said, speaking to KRON4.
"Right now there’s really no plan to open the arts and music venues, comedy clubs, theaters, and so if we want these businesses to be here when the pandemic is over, we need to give them a lifeline of support," Haney added.
The hope is that, given how tight the city's budget already is, a new nightlife fund can be seeded by the city primarily funded through private donations. The goal would be for $40 to $50 million that could be distributed across the city's nightlife venues.
As Haney's legislative aide, Honey Mahogany, told SFGate this week, "The mayor has asked for citywide budget cuts, and we know that finding that amount of money is pretty near impossible. But if we can find a couple million for this venture and do fundraising from the private sector, we can surely come up with something to save these venues."
She added, "We should not overlook the fact that we have more billionaires in our city than almost any other city in the world. If San Francisco is the place they want to live, they should have an interest in keeping it a place where people want to visit and stay. If they don’t want to see that disappear, perhaps they can spare a few million to see the city survive."
Mahogany knows first-hand the kind of pain that operators are feeling. She is one of the co-owners of The Stud, which closed in May due to an inability to pay rent, with hopes to reopen in a new location.
"We’re still hearing about local venues that are waiting on the first round of PPP loans," Mahogany told SFGate. "San Francisco is a world class destination and tourism is our number one industry — our theaters and nightlife are huge drivers of our local economy. But we don’t know how much of that nationwide funding will go toward our city, and we want to make sure those venues will receive some support. The city should have a large, vested interest in protecting them."
Haney expects to hold a hearing on the creation of the nightlife fund in January, and for the Board of Supervisors to vote on it shortly thereafter.
Related: SF Giving $2.5 Million in Tax Waivers to Nightlife and Entertainment Venues
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