Bombyx allowed to reopen for live music in Florence after fire chief rescinds shutdown order

By ALEXANDER MACDOUGALL

Staff Writer

Published: 05-26-2023 5:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Almost as quickly as it was closed for live music events, the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity on Friday reopened to performances.

Executive Director Cassandra Holden said she received the welcome news Friday morning in an email from Fire Chief Jon Davine, who had previously prohibited live music at the center after classifying it as a nightclub and noting it lacked an automatic sprinkler system.

“After consultation with the city building officials and the mayor’s office, I have agreed to rescind my Cease and Desist Order,” Davine wrote in the message. “Moving forward, you must abide by any and all restrictions ordered by the Building Department.”

Among the conditions for reopening to music, Bombyx must refrain from serving alcohol at its events, must limit capacity to 310 people and may not move any pews in its building, which also is the home of the Florence Congregational Church, according to Holden.

At a press conference held earlier in the week, Bombyx staff and board members announced that they would appeal the May 19 shutdown order to the Massachusetts Fire Safety Commission’s Automatic Sprinkler Appeals Board.

Bombyx was forced to cancel scheduled performances on the weekend of May 12-13 after Capt. Mark Curtin, the Fire Department’s fire prevention officer, arrived unannounced at the center and, after an inspection, said he was closing the facility to musical events.

Earlier in the month, in an email sent out to the city’s License Commission, Transportation and Parking Commission, Planning Board and Police Department, a group of residents who live near the center complained about noise levels and parking since Bombyx opened in November 2021 at its 130 Pine St. address.

“We are not seeking to shut down Bombyx nor curtail programming related to a particular genre of music. We are simply asking Bombyx to be good neighbors,” the letter said. “At this point, it is clear to us that city action and intervention is urgently required. We therefore request that the City of Northampton take reasonable steps to restrict Bombyx’s usage of 130 Pine Street to events and activities that are compatible with, and respectful of, the residential community in which they are located.”

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City Councilor Alex Jarrett, whose Ward 5 district includes the area around Bombyx, said in a newsletter sent out May 21 that the city would have additional meetings throughout the week to review safety codes and determine more clearly what activities can take place.

“I very much want Bombyx to succeed and will be supporting them as they consider their next steps,” Jarrett wrote. “They are an important cultural resource, support many other businesses in the area, and bring additional vitality to Florence.”

In a statement to the Gazette Friday, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said the city has been working with both sides to try to come to an agreement for the center to reopen for music.

“The city’s been working all along trying to find a way to balance life safety and find a way to continue operations [at Bombyx],” Sciarra said.

In a later announcement, Sciarra said that Bombyx should redirect the funds awarded to them from the ARPA Community Recovery Grant, originally for a community kitchen, to instead go toward installing a fire control system. She also said she expected Bombyx to apply for a Community Preservation Act grant.

“Through consultations with various city departments, experts from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and careful consideration of the efforts offered by Bombyx to achieve compliance, the city has reached a satisfactory balance,” she said.

The next step for Bombyx is to hold a meeting with the city’s Building Department, scheduled for Tuesday, to discuss renovation plans and how to meet safety requirements.

“We are deeply grateful for the support we have received from our elected officials, municipal leaders, and the community at large,” Holden said. “We look forward to getting back on track with restoring this historic property and bringing new programming to the region.”

The center was to host Afro-Cuban jazz musician Harold Lopez Nussa on Friday and musical band The Samples on Saturday, as originally scheduled before the shutdown last week.

Holden also announced that the center was launching a fundraising campaign to ensure it will be able to meet future safety standards demanded by the city.

“The best way to support us is to buy tickets to a show,” Holden said. “We need more people coming back.”

The Bombyx Center is located in Florence’s historic Congregational Church, whose parishioners continue to use the sanctuary. The center is also home to the Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue and the Cloverdale Preschool, while numerous other local groups, such as the Young@Heart Chorus, use the facility on a regular basis.

Alexander MacDougall can be reached at amacdougall@gazettenet.com.

 

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