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Stimulus offers $ 15 billion in relief to struggling arts venues

For music hall owners, theater producers, and cultural institutions who have suffered from the pandemic without business, the coronavirus relief program that congressional leaders agreed to this week offers the prospect of help at last: it includes $ 15 billion to help them overcome a crisis that has shut down theaters and silent venues.

The money, which is part of a $ 900 billion coronavirus relief program, is designed to help the cultural sector – from rock clubs to dive bars to Broadway theaters and museums – to survive. Many small owners have described it as their last hope of being able to stay in business after an income drought of almost a year.

“This is what our industry needs to be successful,” said Dayna Frank, owner of First Avenue, a historic Minneapolis music club. She is also chair of the board of directors of the National Independent Venue Association, which was formed in April and which lobbied Congress for relief for its more than 3,000 members.

As word of the deal began to spread on Sunday night, a collective sigh of relief ricocheted through group text messages and social media posts. “Last night was my first smile in probably nine months,” Ms. Frank said.

Broadway theaters, closed since March, have applauded the relief program.

“We are grateful for this bipartisan agreement which will bring immediate relief to our entire industry and a lifeline for the future,” said Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, the professional organization of producers. and theater owners, in a statement.

Nataki Garrett, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, said the help would be crucial for nonprofit theaters. “Our situation was critical and dire,” she said.

But leaders of some large cultural nonprofits feared that the way the bill is structured – prioritizing organizations that have lost very high percentages of their income before considering the rest – could put them in the spotlight. End of the race for grants because they usually get a significant portion of income through donations.

With the bill due to be approved by both houses of Congress as early as Monday night, arts groups across the country cautiously rejoiced as they studied the fine print to see what kind of help they could get. Most doubt the entertainment industry can return to full action until next year, at the earliest.

The bill allows independent entertainment companies, such as concert halls and cinemas, as well as other cultural entities, to apply for grants from the Small Business Administration to support six months of payments to employees and for costs such than rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25% of their earnings to qualify, and those who have lost more than 90% will be able to apply first, within the first two weeks of the bill coming into force.

Grants will be capped at $ 10 million.

The core of these provisions was proposed to the Senate in July by Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. As relief efforts languished for months in Washington, places and institutions began to give way. According to the independent association of the places, at least 300 music spots have been closed since the start of the pandemic.

Senator Klobuchar credited local groups with a relentless campaign to persuade members of Congress of their economic and cultural value to local communities.

“These are the grassroots efforts of musicians, theaters and fans across the country,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview on Monday. “And it was the fact that the coalition remained united. They did not clash.

The pandemic has forced small concert halls and nonprofit theaters – normally foreign to Washington – to learn the art of lobbying. The owners spoke about the elbow grease they put into building their businesses, the ancillary benefits to local communities through tourism and restoration, and the historic role arts organizations have played in revitalizing local communities. ravaged corridors of urban America.

The idea of ​​the suffering of cultural groups in all corners of the country helped this part of the relief package gain broad bipartisan support.

In addition to theaters and museums, the bill will allow talent agents and managers to seek redress. The bill would restrict publicly traded companies and other big players.

“I wanted to make sure this doesn’t benefit Ticketmasters around the world,” Ms. Klobuchar said.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has been a strong advocate for cultural relief – he wore a “Save Our Stages” mask during the latest wave of negotiations on Capitol Hill last week – with, understandably, particular emphasis on groups in New York, including Broadway theaters.

“It wasn’t just Broadway,” Mr. Schumer said in an interview. “It’s more independent theaters that are the cornerstone of New York. Young people come to New York, and that’s part of the reason they come – to cities in general, not just New York. “

“The non-profit and artistic world is very important for the economies of cities,” he added. “People forget that.”

For some of the mom-pop operators who found themselves campaigning for relief, the process was a must-do, even if it was baffling.

“We used to call managers and agents to book talent,” said Chris Bauman of Zenith Music Group, which operates a handful of venues in Chicago. “Now we are immersed in this crazy world of politics. Eighty hours a week of zooming in with mayors, senators, members of Congress.

“It shows that it is possible to do it,” Bauman added, fighting back tears. “Do not be outdone.”

Sarah Bahr contributed reporting.

Travel News

In a struggling New York office market, life sciences flourish

The coronavirus pandemic, which has focused more attention on healthcare and sparked a rocky race for a Covid-19 vaccine, has also increased interest in life science real estate in New York City.

The city had previously tried to catch up with other life science powers such as Boston, San Diego and San Francisco. Real estate companies, with government backing, had built commercial labs for medical researchers, incubators for biotech start-ups, and offices for pharmaceutical companies ready to bring new drugs to market.

Today, investor funding is flowing into such projects at a time when the city’s office market is hit by lockdowns and work-from-home orders. Office availability in Manhattan jumped to 14.1% in the third quarter from 11.8% in the same period a year ago, while average rent fell about 1%, according to Newmark, a commercial real estate consulting.

Developers are jumping on the life sciences bandwagon, which has come across as a bright spot in an uncertain picture of commercial real estate. According to a report from CBRE, a real estate services company, the labs rent in Manhattan averages about $ 105 per square foot.

Experts warn it may be too early to celebrate a turnaround, but the developers are moving ahead.

The latest move comes from Taconic Investment Partners, which just revealed plans to convert a former car showroom on Manhattan’s West Side into a life science center. The building was built in 1929 for Chrysler, but ABC occupied it for decades. When the Walt Disney Company, which owns the television network, leaves in January for new digs downtown, Taconic, in partnership with Nuveen Real Estate, will begin overhauling the building, said Matthew Weir, senior vice president of Taconic. .

“We believe this is a game-changing moment in New York,” he added.

The city has long had key ingredients for the development of life sciences. It has leading universities and academic medical centers – the places where scientific breakthroughs are often made and bioscience companies born. And it’s teeming with chemists, biomedical engineers, and other life science professionals.

Funding for the city’s research institutes by the National Institutes of Health, the federal government’s biomedical research agency, has increased every year since 2016 and reached $ 2.2 billion last year, just behind the region of Boston.

But New York City has run out of labs and other spaces entrepreneurs need to start businesses and bring drugs to clinical trials and eventually commercial production.

As a result, young biotech companies tend to go elsewhere. For example, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which emerged from research conducted at Columbia University, moved 30 miles north of Tarrytown, NY The company, which had more than $ 7.8 billion in revenue in 2019. , is conducting trials for a Covid-19 antibody treatment that was recently handed over to President Trump.

The situation began to change in 2010 when Alexandria, a California developer of bioscience complexes, opened a sparkling tower known as the Alexandria Center for Life Science-New York City on the east side of Manhattan in the hallway of the hospital known as Bedpan Alley. The location reflects the belief that life science developments must be close to research institutions, forming ‘clusters’. In 2014, Alexandria completed the second of three planned towers on its campus.

Government initiatives have been put in place to encourage these efforts, which promise well-paying jobs and tax revenues. In 2016, New York City launched a $ 500 million life sciences initiative, led by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. In 2017, New York State unveiled its own $ 620 million plan.

Deerfield Management Company, a healthcare investment firm, is a beneficiary of the town’s program. It receives nearly $ 100 million in tax credits for converting a 12-story building in the Flatiron District into a vertical campus with lab space, conference rooms, and offices for non-profit groups. profit and academic institutions.

Modernizing a building for the life sciences can be a major undertaking. While cheaper and faster than building from scratch, the cost can be four times the cost of converting a building to office use, by some estimates.

Not all buildings are suitable for conversion either, said Peter Schubert, a partner at Ennead Architects, who has worked on life science projects. The best candidates have large floor plates, are structurally sturdy to avoid vibrations which can be disastrous in laboratory work, and have high ceilings that can accommodate the expansive ductwork needed for improved ventilation. Electrical systems must support increased energy needs. Loading docks may need to separate, for example, the safe arrival of tissue samples and the disposal of chemical waste. While old manufacturing plants often fit the bill, “it’s really about build by building,” Schubert said.

The challenges did not deter the developers.

Taconic’s next project will be part of an emerging life sciences cluster on the West Side of Manhattan. The developer, in conjunction with Silverstein Properties, has already renamed a former nearby film production studio to Hudson Research Center, leasing space to tenants including the New York Stem Cell Foundation.

Plans for the new project were drawn up by Perkins & Will, an architectural firm, and include replacing the brick and concrete facade with glass and shiny aluminum. An automatic helix-shaped ramp, a vestige of the days of the building’s exposure, will become the centerpiece of the reincarnated interior. The renovation is expected to be completed in early 2023, Mr. Weir said.

Other projects are underway in a growing life sciences cluster in West Harlem, near Columbia University, where Janus Property Company is renovating old brick factories for tenants, including Harlem Biospace, an incubator offering a shared laboratory space. Janus is also building the 350,000 square foot Taystee Lab building on the site of a former bread bakery.

An influx of private venture capital money into the companies that would occupy such projects only stimulated interest.

“Every week a developer buys a building to convert to life sciences,” said Joshua King, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate company. He said he and his colleagues were constantly responding to calls from homeowners considering desk-to-lab conversions.

But the life science “boom” is a boomlet at best.

Of the nearly 500 million square feet of office space in New York City, less than two million square feet is redeveloped for laboratories or marketed exclusively for the life sciences, although more are in development. (For comparison, Boston has about 30 million square feet of such space.)

Life sciences “will not be an office savior in New York in any way,” said William Hartman, executive general manager of Cushman & Wakefield. “This will not solve the big problem of vacancies.”

“Maybe we are experiencing a premature exuberance,” he added.

The availability of marketed buildings for laboratories is 30.5%, according to the CBRE report, although the availability of pre-built space is only 2.3%.

“The reality is that demand is limited,” said John H. Cunningham, executive vice president of Alexandria. “There are a handful of companies in the market that try out tires.”

But Lindsay Greene, chief strategy officer at the Economic Development Corporation, predicted that demand would catch up with supply as early stage companies secure funding and move from incubators to their own spaces. “There is a catch-up effect,” she says. “We have to allow time for this to unfold.”

Some existing life science spaces have served efforts related to the pandemic. The city has set up its pandemic response laboratory, which processes coronavirus tests, in central Alexandria.

Yet the future of the sector will depend on tenants who survive the pandemic. It takes about 25 years for a life sciences industry to mature.

“Our goal is not to overtake another city,” Ms. Greene said, “but to be part of a peer group with them.”