Winnipeg concert venues looking for light at the end of COVID-19 tunnel

As COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continue in Manitoba, all industries have been affected in one way or another, but concert venues remain among the hardest hit — struggling through months of zero revenue with no definitive sign of change on the immediate horizon.

“It’s a very tough time — effectively being closed for nine months and counting now, not being able to have any proper live shows,” said Park Theatre owner Erick Casselman.

“You’re bleeding out $16,000 to $30,000-plus a month in expenses… How long can you continue, right?”

Read more: Winnipeggers dig deep to help historic concert venue through coronavirus pandemic

Casselman, whose south Osborne venue began life as a movie theatre over a century ago, told 680 CJOB he’s received some grants to help keep the Park afloat through FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records) and Canadian Heritage, but it’s still a been an unprecedented challenge for venues across the city.

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“You’ve just got to barrel down and decide what you want to do… and in my case, it’s just taking out loans and putting myself in debt, knowing that — hopefully — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel coming soon.

“We already lost the Garrick Theatre here in the city, which is a big blow to live music. Even if a lot of us limp through this, there’s still going to be the carrying costs and the day-to-day costs moving forward,” he said.

“We will likely see more venues lost here in Winnipeg, and we already have too few of them to begin with.”

Pyramid Cabaret owner David McKeigan told 680 CJOB he’s in the same boat.

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“We’re trying to do what we can to prepare for the future,” he said. “We’re optimistic we’re not going to close in the end.”

The Royal Albert, seen here in a 2019 file photo.
The Royal Albert, seen here in a 2019 file photo. Global News / Sam Thompson

McKeigan’s situation was compounded by the fact that the Pyramid had also taken ownership of the Royal Albert and was preparing to reopen the iconic Exchange District venue when lockdown hit.

“We’ve been doing work there, trying to prepare for an eventual opening,” he said.

“It seemed that we were almost ready to open, then all of a sudden, the second shutdown came.”

Read more: Winnipeg concert venue taking performances online during coronavirus pandemic

McKeigan, who has been in the industry for almost four decades, said a further frustration is that because the Pyramid isn’t renting or leasing its building, it isn’t eligible for the type of rent or mortgage relief programs that other businesses have been able to take advantage of.

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Meanwhile, he’s stuck paying interest on bills with no revenue coming in.

“We own the building, so we were eligible for nothing — yet the city and the province, who were getting the education and property taxes, expected full payment.

“I’d like to see a program where they said, ‘Look, worry about the interest later.’”

Despite the uncertainty, he said he’s optimistic about a light at the end of the tunnel, and that live music is something everyone’s been missing in isolation, so hopefully audiences — and artists — will return when it’s safe to do so.

“Everyone is affected on many, many levels. We’ll be happy to get going again.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Community rallying together to save Winnipeg’s Park Theatre' Coronavirus: Community rallying together to save Winnipeg’s Park Theatre

Coronavirus: Community rallying together to save Winnipeg’s Park Theatre – Jun 15, 2020

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