FILE - Tennessee Aquarium

The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tenn.

(The Center Square) – For 299 venues and businesses across Tennessee, the federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant paid out as much as $10 million per business.

Operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program sought to help entertainment venues, theaters, museums, aquariums, talent representatives and similar businesses that were forced to shut down – partially or completely – during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program granted $310.5 million to Tennessee businesses and $16 billion nationally. The grants sent $1 million or more to 75 different Tennessee companies.

Grants were capped at $10 million, and three of the top five recipients in Tennessee were from the same address: the corporate offices of Malco Theatres in Memphis.

Between four names (Malco State Road LLC, Malco Theatres Inc., Malco Magnolia Cinemas LLC and Malco Ventures LLC), the company received $38.4 million in grants.

When asked about the grants and their impact, a representative for Malco Theatres said, “We are not giving any formal interviews regarding the SVOG grants.” Instead, Malco offered a statement.

“The last 18 months were devastating for our industry, our company, and our employees,” the statement said. “These grants were vital to our survival and have enabled us to stay afloat in order to meet our obligations, including employing 1,500 people.”

The Small Business Administration set aside at least $2 billion of the grant funds for venues and operations with 50 or fewer employees.

Applicants received 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue with a $10 million cap per grant. Grantees had to have been open Feb. 29, 2020, to receive an award, and businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans on or after Dec. 27, 2020, had their grants reduced by the amount of the PPP loans.

SBA Administrator Isabel Guzman was in Nashville on Monday at one of the grants recipients with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who represents Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District around Nashville.

“Over 12,000 businesses so far have received help from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program," Guzman tweeted. "[U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper] and I visited one of them today in the great city of Nashville. [Rudy's Jazz Room] brings Nashville Jazz and New Orleans creole together to form one remarkable experience.”

Rudy’s Jazz Room received $427,395 in the first wave of grants and $282,000 in the second wave.

"Spearheaded by House Democrats, pandemic relief aid has saved so many of our local venues and treasures," Cooper tweeted in response. "I’m proud SBA chose to highlight this success in Nashville."

More than 100 Nashville businesses received the grants, along with 35 from Memphis and 20 from Knoxville.

Some of the largest recipients outside of Malco were Great Choice Investments in Pigeon Forge ($10 million), Outback Presents in Nashville ($9.7 million), Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville ($9.3 million in Round 1 and $695,000 in Round 2), Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga ($8 million), Country Music Foundation in Nashville ($8 million), Orpheum Theatre Group of Memphis ($7.6 million), Starstruck Management Group of Nashville ($6.9 million), Beale Street Blues of Memphis ($6.2 million), The Tivoli Theatre Foundation of Chattanooga ($5.7 million in Round 1 and $2.9 million in Round 2) and Country Thunder Holdings of Madison ($5.3 million).

Staff Reporter

Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.