Monday, July 19, 2021 | 12:58 p.m.
As he walked through the shuttered Smith Center for the Performing Arts, President and CEO Myron Martin noted to the moment how long it has been since anyone has enjoyed a concert or play at the downtown Las Vegas venue.
“We haven’t had anything here for 486 days,” Martin said Sunday, as he led Isabella Casillas Guzman, national administrator for the Small Business Administration, around the facility.
The coronavirus pandemic shut down the Smith Center in March 2020. The Small Business Administration recently awarded the Smith Center a $10 million grant aimed at helping shuttered entertainment venues.
The grant is part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
“The shuttered venue grants were meant for places like the Smith Center that employ local musicians and entertain local people,” Martin said. “The SBA is helping us to get back to where we want to be. We’re thankful for that.”
The grant will give the Smith Center a boost as it ramps up hiring in anticipation of a Sept. 14 reopening. Singer Frankie Moreno is scheduled to play that night at the theater’s cabaret jazz venue.
Before the pandemic, the Smith Center had about 160 people full-time employees, though most were laid off as events were canceled to help curb the spread of the virus.
Martin said he started rehiring those employees a couple weeks ago. Most are likely to return, though some have moved on to other careers or left Las Vegas, he said.
Once spectators return to the Smith Center, they will see some changes, Martin said.
The venue’s ticketing system is going paperless — tickets will be scanned from customers’ smartphones — and drinks and snacks will be paid for through a cashless system.
Guzman’s visit to Las Vegas — she also visited a number of local eateries, including Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant — was part of a national tour of cities hardest hit by the pandemic.
“The American Rescue Plan and the Biden administration’s efforts to try to battle COVID-19 have started to pay off as we get more people vaccinated and get more people back together,” Guzman said. “They still need help. There’s still a lot of unknowns. We need to get people back on main streets and back in business centers so our businesses can recover some of the revenues that have been lost.”
Guzman said she was impressed with Las Vegas’ pandemic recovery, though restaurant owners indicated they are still struggling.
“This is the entertainment capital of the world. So many people relied on people getting together, people vacationing and travel and tourism,” she said. “With restaurants, what I’m hearing is that it’s still challenging.”
For more information about programs that might be available for Las Vegas small businesses, the administration encourages people to visit its website.