Aurora Theatre among businesses poised for funds from PPP extension

The Aurora Theatre presents their final performance of Les Miserables in Lawrenceville Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (Photo by: Brendan Sullivan)
A 2013 performance of Les Miserables by the Aurora Theatre. Despite financial concerns from the pandemic, the show will go on at the Lawrenceville-based theater, as it and other U.S. businesses are poised to receive financial relief from an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program that passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday, March 25. (Courtesy of Brendan Sullivan)



U.S. Rep Carolyn Bourdeaux of Suwanee got a two-month extension of the popular program passed by Congress

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Aurora Theatre had already applied for a Shuttered Venue Operator Grant. The theater will apply for the grant in April after the application period formally opens.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthony Rodriguez and Ann-Carol Pence have worried about keeping staff paid and doors open at their Lawrenceville-based Aurora Theatre.

The duo’s nonprofit performing arts theater — the second largest in the state — has held smaller performances over the past year to abide by social distancing guidelines, resulting in a 75% reduction in revenue.

But the show will go on. On Thursday in a 92-7 vote, the U.S. Senate passed the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Extension Act of 2021, a bill first introduced in the House by U.S. Rep Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee). The two-month extension gives the theater and other businesses across the nation more time to receive federal funds to help weather the economic downturn.

With her PPP Extension Act of 2021 that cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee) became the first new member of the 117th Congress to pass a bill out of both chambers of U.S. Congress. (Alyssa Pointer /
With her PPP Extension Act of 2021 that cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Suwanee) became the first new member of the 117th Congress to pass a bill out of both chambers of U.S. Congress. (Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

The new bill would extend the current deadline for small businesses to apply for a PPP loan from March 31 to May 31, as well as give the U.S. Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans submitted before the new deadline. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days.

“We hear from people all the time that they are operating at a fraction of their capacity, and what the pandemic did was it affected businesses who are in the business of bringing people together,” Bourdeaux said. “The idea is to try to keep them afloat until we can get to the other side of the pandemic, get opened up again and get them off to a good start in a post-pandemic world.”

The program, created in March 2020 as part of the CARES Act, has awarded 7.5 million loans totaling $687 billion to small businesses during the last year, according to data from the Small Business Administration. After speaking with Gwinnett County businesses in her district, including the Aurora Theatre, Bourdeaux learned that some needed a longer window to apply for these funds.

“We’ve done what we could to engage our patrons with online work and some limited in-person events, but the size of the audience that we can have with social-distancing requirements makes it very difficult to do that in any tangible economic fashion,” Rodriguez said.

In addition to applying for another PPP loan, Rodriguez’ organization will apply for a SBA Shuttered Venue Operator Grant. Before the American Rescue Plan changed aid guidelines, Rodriguez could only apply for one funding source at a time, with the original loan application deadline expiring before he’d learn if his company received the grant.

Rodriguez alerted Bourdeaux of his need, prompting her to speak to more businesses and meet with members of U.S. Congress on both sides of the aisle. Her bill passed the U.S. House on March 16 in a 415-3 vote. “Washington, D.C. after January 6 has become very bitterly divided, and it was such a refreshing moment to have this be a bill that was supported by both sides at such large numbers,” Bourdeaux said.

Located in the heart of Lawrenceville, the Aurora Theatre, which is in the process of a $35-million expansion of its facilities partly funded by the city and Gwinnett County, received approximately $150,000 from its first PPP loan. That went toward the $3 million it takes to operate its facilities and pay 15 employees and more than 150 performers each year.

The organization hopes to receive about $900,000 between its next PPP loan and a Shuttered Venue Operator Grant. It has already applied for the second PPP loan of about $150,000, and it will apply for the $900,000 grant when applications open in April. If both are received, the grant would be deducted by the loan amount.

Rodriguez and Pence fell confident the financial help would allow them to sustain the theater until they can open again for full-capacity performances.

“It means a lot for us to be able to advocate for the arts as a small business and an economic development engine and help other organizations in the process,” Rodriguez said. “If we can lift up the entire art sector, I’m happy to be a part of that.”

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