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BOMBYX will hold concerts, but not in its own venue — as fire chief issues cease-and-desist order

BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity in Florence, Massachusetts.

The BOMBYX Center for Arts & Equity is relocating concerts that were originally scheduled to be held this weekend in its usual venue — an 1860s building in Florence, Massachusetts, that is also used by a church and a synagogue.

The concerts are being moved to Gateway City Arts in Holyoke and St John's Church in Northampton. That's after the Northampton fire chief followed up last week's verbal order with a written one Friday ordering BOMBYX to stop holding certain kinds of events until automatic sprinklers are installed.

In a letter to Cassandra Holden of BOMBYX, Chief Jon Davine wrote that city officials visited the venue last week in response to noise complaints. He wrote that Holden told them BOMBYX sells up to 330 tickets for events that include live music, that there's alcohol on the premises and that it's advertised as a nightclub in local papers.

Based on that information, Davine said BOMBYX is a nightclub and must have sprinklers.

"I hereby order you to cease and desist all events that constitute a nightclub, dance hall, discotheque, bar or similar entertainment purposes inside the premises until automatic sprinklers are installed," the letter said.

Holden said BOMBYX, which has operated in the building for more than a year and half, is meeting with lawyers to determine the best course of action. The nonprofit has the right to appeal to the Massachusetts Fire Safety Commission and the Automatic Sprinkler Appeals Board.

Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra issued a statement Friday supporting the fire department's decision.

"First and foremost, the safety of everyone attending events in Northampton is of utmost importance," Sciarra said. "Our city's professionals are well-versed in Massachusetts safety codes, which serve as the operating rules. We must prioritize human life above all else, and I have confidence in our regulators to uphold this principle."

The mayor said she will actively help BOMBYX "seek funding for the fire safety upgrades needed for this important historic structure."

The statement said the mayor has already offered to allow BOMBYX to reallocate federal pandemic recovery funds the city previously awarded the organization for a commercial kitchen project.

"The responsibility to adhere to all safety codes lies with [BOMBYX], and it appears that city regulators and [BOMBYX]’s own consultants informed them about the necessity of fire safety equipment to function as a music venue," Sciarra said.

BOMBYX doesn't own the building where it holds events. Holden said it has a multi-year lease-to-own agreement with Florence Congregational Church.

The church and the Beit Ahavah synagogue hold religious services in the same space that BOMBYX has used for concerts. Religious organizations are exempt from the code that requires a sprinkler system.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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