Bing Arts Center put up for sale; COVID pandemic forces closing of 71-year-old Springfield theater

The nonprofit group behind the Bing Arts Center says it’s running out of money and has put the 71-year-old venue up for sale. The building, with its 10,000 square feet of theater, gallery and gathering space, is listed with an asking price of $175,000 with Aldo Giella of Lessard Realty. “Our whole thing was about bringing people together,” said Bing Executive Director Brian F. Hale. “And now you can’t bring people together.” With no events since March, the volunteers who took over the Bing from the city — paying just a dollar nearly 20 years ago — can no longer keep up with bills and with the small mortgage they took out on the property to fund renovations.

“It doesn’t really make sense to talk about an amount of money,” Hale said of the venue’s financial trouble.

If the Bing had $20,000 or $30,000 in donations tomorrow, it could afford to keep going. But for how long when there is so much uncertainty about COVID, about when theaters and galleries can reopen and about the public’s willingness for attending events,” he said.

Hale added, “You struggle to get people to come to events. You work to build momentum. And after being down for a year, the idea of starting up again… It would take six months just to start scheduling again.”

The Bing never was able to move ahead with renovations to the movie theater auditorium to the rear of the building, an estimated $1 million project.

“We managed to be open for 10 or 11 years,” Hale said. “We never really achieved financial sustainability. We did build up a nest egg. It’s gone now and we have no choice.”

There is a bittersweet feeling of what might-have-been had there been money to do the theater, he said.

“It could have been as nice a venue as there is in the Valley, if we would have had the funding,” Hale said. “You can only get so far without the deep pockets.”

But there are great memories as well. The Bing played host to five separate Grammy Award winners over the years. There were nights the saxophone players jumped up on the tables and the people shoved the chairs aside to dance.

“It was worth doing,” Hale said. “It was a great time. We met a lot of great people.”

The Bing opened in 1950 as a movie theater and was named for crooner Bing Crosby of “White Christmas” fame. The venue at 716 Sumner Avenue hasn’t hosted an event since March.

Performance venues have been hard hit during the pandemic with most gatherings of people banned in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Holyoke’s popular Gateway City Arts announced in December that it was closing as a result of the prolonged coronavirus shutdown and is up for sale.

In November, Northampton’s New Century Theatre — a troupe that performed at Smith College not a venue on its own — called it quits.

The Bing is owned by The “X” Main Street Corp., a nonprofit that purchased the building from the city of Springfield in 2003, according to its website. The city had taken over the property four years earlier for nonpayment of taxes.

Over the years, the Bing has offered classes in everything from basic photography to African drumming, as well as folk and rock performances, open mic nights, gallery showings and comic book conventions.

The remodeled 2,902-square-foot front of the building has a lobby and three separate rooms which could be used as office space, according to the real estate listing. There is a kitchen and restrooms.

The cinema is in its original condition and has not been updated and currently has no electricity, the listing said.

The 2003 deed from the city transferring the property to the “X” Main Street Corp. for just one dollar also places restrictions on the use of the property — no adult entertainment, no office building or automotive businesses and no residential — and also gives the city say on how the building is altered or renovated or if the use is changed.

Hale said there is a possibility that X” Main Street Corp. will continue once the Bing is sold, if there is money left over. he’d like to keep sponsoring events once the pandemic is over.