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$10 million in COVID-19 relief awarded to movie theaters in Wisconsin
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$10 million in COVID-19 relief awarded to movie theaters in Wisconsin

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Movie theaters across Wisconsin, including Marcus Cinemas and Flix Brewhouse in Madison, are splitting $10 million from the COVID-19 Movie Theater Grant Program.

Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday that 54 movie theater operators across the state are getting the awards as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The grants are being administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration.

The program provides eligible theaters in Wisconsin average awards of $14,600 per screen. The money is designed to be put toward pandemic-related measures, such as improvements to allow appropriate social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, and personnel costs to provide COVID-19 safeguards.

Flix Brewhouse at East Towne Mall was awarded $131,578. Marcus Theatres of Wisconsin, with two locations in the Madison area, is getting about $4 million. Marcus Theatres, based in Milwaukee, is the fourth-largest theater chain in the United States and owns or operates 1,106 screens at 91 locations in 17 states.

Al. Ringling Theatre in Baraboo is getting $14,619.

Marcus Point on Madison’s Far West Side and Marcus Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie closed in March due to COVID-19 restrictions. The theaters re-opened in late August with 10 people allowed in each auditorium.

Dane County’s order classifies theaters under “mass indoor gatherings” and allowed for a maximum of 10 people at each screening until Tuesday, when Public Health Madison and Dane County banned indoor gatherings of people who do not live together.

The most recent recommendation by Dane County temporarily closed theaters as of Wednesday.

“With our updated health and safety protocols and the fact that there has not been a reported case of COVID in theaters, we feel that moviegoing provides a safe escape,” said Mari Randa, a spokeswoman for Marcus Theatres.

Randa said Marcus Theatres appreciates that Evers is trying to help stabilize Wisconsin businesses hit the hardest. “Under the grant, our Wisconsin theaters are eligible for much-needed support, as we look to fully reopen and connect with our guests at the movies once again.”

As of Monday, even before the new order, Flix said it would be closing again. “It has become abundantly clear that the economics simply don’t work to operate this way,” the company wrote on its Madison web page.

New Vision Fitchburg 18, home to Madison’s only IMAX screen, was not on the list of theater operators getting grants. It announced this summer it wouldn’t reopen. Silver Cinemas Market Square Theatre on Odana Road was not on the funding list and hasn’t indicated when it would reopen. On the website of its parent company it says, “We look forward to reopening our business when it’s safe to do so.”

“Wisconsin businesses across industries and communities have felt the strains of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and movie theaters have been particularly hard (hit) as they also battle stalled movie production,” Evers said in a press release. “Movie theaters are often a cornerstone of our main street businesses, and I am glad we were able to get these funds out the door to help them keep theirs open.”

DOA Secretary Joel Brennan noted that movie theaters employ thousands of people in Wisconsin. “We hope this funding will provide some relief to these institutions in communities large and small so that they can continue to provide Wisconsinites with employment and family memories in the years to come,” he said in the release.

The National Association of Theater Owners of Wisconsin & Upper Michigan put out a statement Tuesday saying it was “deeply appreciative” of Evers’ efforts to help Wisconsin’s movie theaters.

George Rouman, president of the association and owner of Rouman Cinema in Rhinelander, which got $87,000, thanked Evers and his administration for recognizing that various industries, including movie theaters, are facing overwhelming challenges.

“These grants will bridge us through what is expected to be a very difficult holiday period,” he said, “and the fear that we may not see a major new release from a Hollywood studio until March or April.”

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