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Opera, Meow Wolf among NM businesses getting virus loans

The Santa Fe Opera, the Meow Wolf artist collaborative and the nonprofit organization that puts on the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta are among thousands of New Mexico businesses that received loans from the U.S. government as part of the massive effort to support the economy amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Treasury Department on Monday identified some of the borrowers, naming those that got more than $150,000 each through the Paycheck Protection Program.

The list in New Mexico includes tribal casinos and hotels, an elite private school in Albuquerque, restaurants, breweries, oil companies, electric co-ops, law firms, churches, two of the state’s well-known newspapers, a few rural hospitals, dental and dermatology offices and a consulting company co-founded by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham more than a decade ago.

Also on the list are institutions that rely on tourists, such as the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. Nonprofit foundations that support New Mexico museums also received loans.

Across the country, the government handed out $521 billion through the Paycheck Protection Program, a crucial piece of its $2 trillion rescue package. The loans can be forgiven if the businesses mostly use the money to continue paying workers.

The program was recently extended to Aug. 8.

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, said Monday that the program has been a lifeline for some businesses in the state, and he urged New Mexicans to take advantage of the extension.

The state’s economy has taken a significant dive during the pandemic, hitting sectors – particularly oil and tourism – that New Mexico depends on. Municipal governments also are grappling with budget shortfalls.

The Santa Fe Opera said in May that it was canceling its season due to the pandemic. More than $5 million in tickets had been sold.

In addition to a loan of more than $2 million through the Paycheck Protection Program, the opera has been asking patrons to donate the value of their tickets to help compensate the artists, musicians and staff who otherwise would have been working. A group of patrons also offered to match all donated tickets, dollar for dollar, up to $3 million.

Opera officials did not respond to a request for comment on the financial assistance.

Balloon Fiesta organizers also recently announced the cancellation of this year’s gathering, which was planned for October. The annual event attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots from around the world and infuses millions of dollars into the economy. It received between $150,000 and $350,000.

Meow Wolf, a New Mexico-based startup company, laid off about 200 employees and furloughed more than 50 more in April. The business had been awarded more than $1 million in state and city financial incentives aimed at creating jobs.

The company, which operates an immersive art installation in Santa Fe, said Monday that the pandemic is having an enormous impact on the business but it declined to say how much it has received through the Paycheck Protection Program. Federal data shows it was among those companies to receive anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.

Meow Wolf said that like many other businesses, it’s constantly evaluating and reacting to the changing landscape. It now has more than 200 employees on the payroll, and the number is growing as it brings back furloughed employees in hopes of reopening the House of Eternal Return exhibition in Santa Fe.

“With hundreds of people depending on us for employment, as well as our local economy since Meow Wolf is a top attraction in Santa Fe, we take our business very seriously and will do whatever we can to continue to provide for our employees and our community,” the company said.

The consulting company founded in 2008 by Lujan Grisham and her campaign treasurer, state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, received a loan of between $150,000 and $350,000. The company contracts with the state to run a high-risk insurance pool.

While Lujan Grisham divested herself from the company during her time in Congress, Armstrong is still an owner. Armstrong did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Some other New Mexico businesses and nonprofits to get loans worth more than $1 million include Bosque Brewing Inc., Calvary megachurch in Albuquerque, the Defined Fitness chain, The Downs at Albuquerque and Ruidoso Downs racetracks, the Navajo Nation’s agricultural enterprise in northwestern New Mexico, Albuquerque Academy, St. Pius High School, the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Publishing Company/Journal Publishing Company.

New Mexico’s restaurant industry received the most loans at 990. Law firms came in second at 573, followed by dentists at 512, real estate agents and brokers at 470, support firms for oil and gas at 466, hotels at 453, physicians at 439 and religious organizations at 423.

New Mexico companies received a total $2.28 billion from the program.

Journal staff contributed to this report.