The San Antonio Area Foundation is in the Pearl.
In a letter emailed to nonprofit organizations the San Antonio Area Foundation is pausing most charitable contributions from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation which the San Antonio Area Foundation is in charge of. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

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The pandemic that sent Santikos Entertainment box office revenues and profits plunging last year is leading to a hiatus in most grant distributions in 2021 by the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, according to a letter sent to area nonprofit organizations by the San Antonio Area Foundation on Thursday.

“Since the start of the pandemic, theatre operations have suffered due to a global pandemic, resulting in theatre closures and a decrease in the annual distribution,” wrote Marjie French, CEO of the San Antonio Area Foundation, where the Santikos foundation is housed. “This unexpected turn of events will impact 2021 grantmaking in comparison to recent grant cycles.”

The John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, a legacy gift of John L. Santikos that began operations in 2015 following his 2014 death, distributes the annual profits from Santikos Enterprises to nonprofits providing services in four broad categories designated in his will. Those include people in need; health care and wellness and medical research; youth and education, including scholarships; and arts and culture.

Santikos Enterprises comprises two divisions: Santikos Entertainment, which includes nine area cinema and entertainment complexes, and the Santikos commercial real estate development company.

The John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation, the owner and beneficiary of the for-profit company, has made more than $61 million in grants to local charitable organizations through the Area Foundation since it began operations, according to the Area Foundation.

The pandemic-driven downturn in the cinema business, which company executives previously said caused an 80 percent decline in revenues and temporary closure of two of the nine cinema complexes, means the flow of profits into the foundation also has dried up. Santikos Enterprises obtained a $50 million Main Street Lending Program loan from the Small Business Administration in December that its CEO Tim Handren described as a “life raft” for the company.

Some recipient nonprofits who received grants in 2020 will receive continuing support, according to the letter, but French said in an interview those sums will be reduced.

“To maximize the impact of available funds, we are shifting to multi-year funding through the extension of 2020 awards,” her letter stated. “We will not have a competitive grant process or application-based grants related to Santikos Capital and Naming Rights.”  

That news did not necessarily come as a surprise in San Antonio’s nonprofit community, where the economic disruption caused by the pandemic has affected operations in all sectors.

“We anticipated the reduction and appreciate the fact that we will not need to reapply this year. Every hour saved not writing grants helps the budget,” wrote Kellen McIntyre, executive director of Bihl Haus Arts, in an email response to French after receiving the letter Thursday. “Please know that we trust and respect SAAF’s decisions in this fragile time.”

“It has been such a challenging year and we are all in the midst of seeing the pain of the pandemic,” wrote Marion Sokol, executive director of the Children’s Bereavement Center of San Antonio, in another email response. “So many families broken and so much anxiety. This thoughtful approach is appreciated more than you can imagine. Time is precious and not having to write a competitive grant application right now is a gift in itself.”

The Area Foundation also is set to issue its annual report on total giving by the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation in 2020. Those grants were less last year than in 2019, according to French. The Area Foundation reported distributions of $10 million in 2019 from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation and 60 other donor-assisted funds its manages. The money from the Santikos foundation made up more than $8 million in grants made in 2019 and 2020, according to a document provided by the Area Foundation.

Even after the arrival of the pandemic in San Antonio, the Santikos foundation was able to make an important $1 million lead gift in April 2020 to the Area Foundation to help launch San Antonio’s COVID-19 Response Fund, jointly administered by the Area Foundation and United Way of San Antonio and Bexar County. A $500,000 gift to the fund by philanthropist Harvey Najim triggered an additional $500,000 from the John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation.

Credit: Courtesy / SAAF

More than 200 local nonprofits benefited from the COVID-19 relief fund in 2020, which ultimately grew to more than $6.4 million with other contributions, according to French.

“The John L. Santikos Charitable Foundation has had an extraordinary impact on the city and nonprofit community since its inception, particularly its emergency funding provided for pandemic relief,” said French.

The loss of Santikos foundation grants, which can reach six figures, is one more funding setback rising out of the pandemic, which continues to negatively affect many nonprofits in the community whose mission is not directly related to COVID-19 relief work.

One such organization is CentroMed, an inner city primary care clinic. The Santikos foundation’s nearly $1 million in previous grants allowed the organization to establish a medical practice in the Indian Creek community in the economically depressed southwest sector of the city. The facility’s center, the Santikos Family Wellness Center, is the result of one of many naming grants issued in recent years by the foundation.

“If it were not for the Santikos Foundation, we would not have been able to do this project,” said CentroMed President Ernesto Gómez. “It’s had quite the impact on our community.”

Told of the hiatus in grants being made in 2021, Gomez said, “That’s a shame. That’s a shame.”

The San Antonio Area Foundation is a supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business and nonprofit members, click here.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.

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Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham covered business and technology for the San Antonio Report.