House floats $185M spending bill for entertainment venues, fitness centers

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House on Thursday voted 96-6 to push through a $184.6 million supplemental spending bill that would benefit convention and visitors bureaus, restaurants and fitness centers forced to shut down during the pandemic.

The supplemental uses federal COVID relief funds to finance a variety of businesses lawmakers argue were hit hardest and stayed closed longest during the pandemic. 

"These businesses were prohibited by the government from operating and generating revenue during the pandemic," said Rep. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. 

While the funds largely support businesses, a large chunk of the money would go toward bills passed by the House that would forgive certain licensing fees for occupations stressed or shut down by the pandemic. The bills were passed by the House in June but have yet to pass the Senate. 

"This package, and the funding that Rep. Albert’s bill would provide for it, is a chance to right that wrong of asking businesses to pay for the right to operate without actually being given the chance to operate during the 2020 and 2021 shutdown orders," Rep. Andrew Fink, R-Hillsdale, told the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday. 

Thomas Deschamps of Farmington Hills makes his way into Powerhouse Gym in Novi for one last workout on March 16, 2020, a few hours before the public gym and all others in the state of Michigan were closed in 2020 by executive order of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Several industry groups testified in support of the bill Wednesday, arguing entertainment venues, fitness centers, and convention and visitors bureaus were hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Among those testifying was Alyssa Tushman, vice chair for the Michigan Fitness Club Association, who had to close two of her three facilities during the pandemic. The association estimated more than 30% of Michigan gyms and fitness centers closed since the beginning of the pandemic. 

"Not only did I lose two (facilities), but I’m being sued by my landlords," Tushman said Wednesday. "There were no protections in place for commercial tenants while there were for residential tenants. This industry is a mess.”

The bill approved Wednesday would allocate about $30 million to the Michigan Association of Convention and Visitor Bureaus to give to individual convention groups, whose budgets largely depend on bed taxes or assessments on hotels — which struggled during the pandemic. 

Another $53 million would be distributed to health and fitness industry businesses through the Department of Treasury. The grants would be capped at $250,000 per physical location and equal to the demonstrated financial hardship related to the pandemic.

Another $25 million would benefit "community development financial institutions" to support community revitalization and development. Grants would range from $1 million to $8 million depending on the group's assets and commitments. 

Another $18 million would be given to movie theaters that can show "significant hardship" as a result of COVID-19. Grants would be capped at $15,000 per screen and would need to be used for payroll, rent, mortgage or utilities.

Another $10 million would be awarded to restaurants to aid in the training of servers. The grant would be distributed through the Michigan Licensed Beverage Association. 

The bill also allocated $6.5 million to "stages survival grants" for live music, entertainment venues and promoters that experienced "significant financial hardship" because of the pandemic. The grants are capped at $100,000 and must be used to support payroll, rent, mortgages or utility. The fund excludes larger entertainment venues in Detroit. 

The supplemental also deposits $42.1 million into the Department of Treasury to pay for fee cuts for certain licensees and businesses under separate House bills that have yet to pass through the Senate. Those proposed cuts include health occupations licensing fees, skilled trades fees, occupational code fees and liquor control commission fees.