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State Awards Grants to Concert Halls and Stadiums, As Winter Brings Fresh Concerns

Photo showing inside of empty music call
Courtesy of Tupelo Music Hall

The state is awarding $11.5 million to live music venues, stadiums and theaters as they face financial losses and an uncertain winter of cancelled and limited performances due to the pandemic.

Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday that 38 venues will receive grants through the Live Venue Relief program, which is funded by the federal CARES Act. 

Many of the facilities were forced to cancel events, reduce capacity and incur expenses to renovate both indoor and outdoor performance spaces this year.

The three largest recipients are the New Hampshire Fisher Cats minor league baseball team, the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which each will receive $1.5 million. 

[Click here to see a full list of grant recipients.]

The smallest award, $390, goes to the Franklin Opera House.  Grants were calculated based on the facilities' expected losses versus previous years. 

The Tupelo Music Hall in Derry is receiving $590,000, which owner Scott Hayward said will allow him to keep his core employees on payroll through the winter months.  

“Having that buffer allows us to concentrate on, 'Okay, how are we going to get through this without constantly searching for money to pay bills,' ” said Hayward.

Tupelo, which books mostly rock ‘n roll acts, transitioned to outdoor shows this year, staging more than 100 events.

“Considering the cards we had, I thought we played a pretty good hand,” he said about this summer’s busy schedule.  

Now, as the weather turns cold, Hayward said he's deconstructed Tupelo's outdoor stage and is preparing for indoor shows, which will be limited to less than 25 percent of the venue’s normal capacity. Hayward said he’s going beyond New Hampshire’s official guidelines, spacing tables and seats out to ensure showgoers and employees feel comfortable.

“I want people to come in to the venue to a show, and I want them to look around and say, 'Oh wow, this is really safe, this is really spread out,' ” he said. “So we are doing about 40 to 50 seats less than we could.”

The Lebanon Opera House, which has remained closed throughout the pandemic, received $80,000 in grant funds. 

“Our CARES Act relief funding is chipping away at our unprecedented losses since March. Essentially, the new funding extends our runway by a few months,” said Joe Clifford, the non-profit theater’s executive director.

Clifford said his 800-seat facility operated with slim profit margins even when it could fill all of its seats. Operating at a quarter of normal capacity doesn’t make financial sense, he said. In addition, there are few acts touring at the moment.

“I’m grateful for the relief fund,” said Clifford. “But we are poised for a long, cold winter with a dark theater and no projected income for months.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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