Federal Funds Reach Venues Shuttered During COVID
Dozens of venues in western Massachusetts that were forced to close last year during the COVID-19 pandemic have now received federal aid.
2020 was supposed to be a big year for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. A $21 million major renovation project had just been completed. That year’s enshrinement ceremony was to include the induction of Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett.
But instead of welcoming throngs of people to the remodeled Hall of Fame with its new touch-screen exhibits and giant video boards, the doors were closed for five months. After reopening last summer with strict capacity limits in place, attendance was just 30 percent of what is typical.
The hoop hall lost $7 million in revenue, according to Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva.
"Bills still had to be paid and bank loans were due," Doleva said. He said the Hall of Fame refused to cut costs by skimping on exterior maintence by letting the grass grow long.
" This is an inconic image of Springfield," Doleva said.
The Hall of Fame recently received almost $4 million in federal aid from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program – the largest recipient in western Massachusetts.
Designed to support theaters, performance venues, and museums that depend on ticket sales, the program offers grants up to 45 percent of a venue’s 2019 revenue up to a maximum of $10 million.
" It is help that will both sustain us and allow us to remain on a growth trajectory," Doleva said.
The funds were part of the $900 billion pandemic relief package that Congress passed last December.
"The federal government ordered these venues to close because it was a public safety hazard and it was the right call," said U.S. Representative Richard Neal.
A total of $20 million from the program has been awarded, so far, to 33 venues in Neal's western Massachusetts district ranging from $3.7 million for the Hall of Fame to $11,350 for PDP Productions in Shelburne.
"The SBA has done a really good job trying to get these dollars to flow," Neal said.
A major driver of tourism in western Massachusetts, Hall of Fame attendance this year is up 33 percent from 2019, according to Doleva.
"Thanfully, the grant has allowed us to do some marketing to bring the business back here," Doleva said. "You don't invest $21 million in a museum and then don't tell people about it."
Grants totaling more than $194 million went to nearly 250 Massachusetts venues that had to close due to COVID restrictions.