‘No strategy’: Live events industry concerned Brown has no plan for reopening

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Officials with Oregon’s live events industry are concerned Gov. Kate Brown doesn’t have a solid reopening plan in place and won’t solicit input from the industry in coming up with a strategy.

Les Schwab Amphitheater Director Marney Smith said she and others in the industry met with a liaison from the governor’s office and Dr. Dean Sidelinger with the OHA last week, “in the hopes of together crafting a safe and equitable plan for performing arts venues to reopen.”

“We’re really frustrated,” said Beau Estes, marketing director for The Old Mill and Les Schwab Amphitheater. “We’re really worked that without clear leadership from the state, we’re not going to be able to book shows or put on shows.”

LSA early last year was gearing up for what promised to be one of its biggest summer concert seasons to date with a full slate of shows from artists like Dave Matthews, Vampire Weekend, Luke Bryan and Bob Dylan.

But COVID restrictions put an end to those concerts as well as the hugely popular Bend Brewfest held at LSA each summer.

“We feel like we have to be vocal of our concerns because there doesn’t seem like there’s a plan,” Estes said, adding that the venue is losing shows daily because there is no direction from the state. “We’re sounding the alarm bell.”

The group of more than two dozen venues and events signed a letter to the governor and says she has not responded, nor was it addressed in the meeting last week.

“Questions submitted by attendees of the meeting addressed the development of benchmarks that can be used to design a path to reopening. Meeting participants were told that there was no strategy and that the Governor would not be pursuing any input from the industry, according to a joint statement from the group.

The group also questioned some of the discrepancies of the current guidelines for counties in the “lower risk” category for transmission. Currently, churches are able to open to 75% capacity while outdoor entertainment venues are limited to 50% capacity.

Additionally, the group suggested outdoor venues should have an accelerated schedule for reaching full capacity because there’s less likelihood for transmission outside.

And, the group said, hard caps on attendance don’t make sense when they’re the same for a 5,000-seat indoor venue and a 10,000-acre outdoor festival site.

“Existing policy inequities will hamper progress toward the full reopening of the economy and are unfair to the entertainment businesses and non-profits who have been impacted by restrictions longer and harder than most other industries,” the statement said.

In the statement, the group points out the additional challenges they face in reopening that other businesses do not.

“First and foremost is the amount of time necessary to schedule, plan, and present performances,” the statement said. “Venues require this lead time based on consistent benchmarks and regulations before they can offer live performances to awaiting audiences. Without them, venues cannot dependably schedule events, sell tickets, and hire staff. Many touring artists have already canceled their tours in Oregon due to this uncertainty. At this point, a single performance cancellation can potentially lead to financial collapse for many of our time-honored venues.”

The group said Oregon’s live events industry is crucial for the state’s economic recovery, citing studies that show for every dollar spent on a ticket, $12 more dollars are spent in the local economy.

‘Many other businesses benefit when people stop, see a show, have dinner, get a hotel, or plan a return trip to a festival. Furthermore, Oregon’s event spaces act as a voice for who we are; our story is told on the stages, arenas, and theaters of the state,” the statement said.”The decisions made today can bring Oregon back to a position of strength and sustainability for jobs, tourism, and its tax base. Alternatively, poor decisions will result in unmitigable damage to an industry that is already poised on the edge of economic collapse.”

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, sent us this response Monday afternoon:

“Economic recovery is one of the Governor’s top priorities, and she recognizes how valuable venue operators are to our state—and that they’ve been hard hit by the pandemic. Governor Brown has been committed to revisiting Oregon’s health and safety guidance as case rates decline. In an effort to support venue operators, we recently expanded outdoor entertainment capacity by removing hard caps and transitioning to a percent-based limit, and we’re currently exploring whether a similar expansion for indoor entertainment would also work. It is because business owners and Oregonians have largely complied with risk levels and health and safety measures that we have prevented surges in hospitalizations and have recently seen decreasing case counts.

“But, while case counts have steadily decreased over the past few weeks, the last week has shown that case numbers can rise again across the state and we still need to remain cautious, especially as we’re also assessing the spread of new, more contagious variants. The current risk level framework was designed to be sustainable over the long term while we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, and it will remain in place for the time being. We will continue to assess the situation and plan for what is next should case numbers decrease and vaccine availability increases.”

Participating Venues and Events include:

P5 Portland 5
Music Portland
Pendleton Round-Up
FairBridge
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Pickathon
Waterfront Blues Festival
Britt Music and Arts Festival
String Summit
Monqui Presents
Wonder Ballroom
Doug Fir
Portland Center Stage
McMenamins
Les Schwab Amphitheater
Cuthbert Amphitheater
McDonald Theatre
Revolution Hall
Mississippi Studios
Oregon Symphony
Sisters Folk Festival
Portland Opera
Oregon Ballet
Sionna Productions LLC
The Old Church Concert Hall
Portland Expo Center

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