Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre gets grant, though SBA still mum on strip club getting same award

Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre is celebrating after receiving notification Thursday, Aug. 5, from the U.S. Small Business Administration that it has qualified, after all, for a Shuttered Venue Operators grant.

BRBT went public earlier this week with its frustration that it was the only performing arts organization in Baton Rouge denied a grant from the federal pandemic relief program, while The Penthouse Club received one of the largest grants in the market.

As previously reported by Daily Report, the local strip club secured a $1.1 million grant under the name Baton Rouge Sports Restaurant Inc., even though the SBA program—created to help theaters, cinemas, museums and music venues—specifically states that venues providing goods or services of “a prurient sexual nature” are ineligible.

It’s still unclear how The Penthouse Club qualified for the grant. It’s also unclear what changed with respect to BRBT’s application status.

The ballet company received word in late July that its grant request was denied. Then, early this week, it was notified it was eligible to appeal the denial within 14 days.

“We were pulling all our financials and gearing up to work on it all weekend,” Executive Director Molly Buchanan says. “It was going to be a lot of work.”

But Buchanan got an email unexpectedly Thursday saying that BRBT’s grant application was approved.

She’s puzzled that the money came through before the appeal was filed and suspects the unwelcome publicity last week may have had something to do with it—not that she’s complaining.

“We’re just so grateful and so thankful for the money,” she says of the $168,000 award. “This will make such a huge difference.”

There’s no way to know for sure why the SBA changed its mind about the BRBT application—or, for that matter, why The Penthouse Club has not been asked to return its grant.

The SBA has not responded to specific questions about either case. In an emailed statement, however, the agency says it takes fraud seriously.

“Misrepresentation of eligibility is unlawful and, when appropriate, these cases are referred to the Office of Inspector General,” it said in the email. “The SBA encourages anyone suspecting fraud or misuse of relief programs to report it at www.sba.gov/fraud.”

The New Orleans management firm that owns and operates The Penthouse Club, Kirkendoll Management, has not returned phone calls and texts seeking comment.

This story originally appeared in an Aug. 6 edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.