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Springfield Museums among latest venues to get COVID recovery money

A new round of federal COVID relief money has been awarded in western Massachusetts to venues that depend on ticket sales to stay in business.

Among the latest recipients of funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Shuttered Venue Operator Grant program is the Springfield Museums which was awarded $1.2 million.

Museums President Kay Simpson said it will make up for losses suffered when the museums were closed for four months in 2020 and then opened last summer with capacity restrictions.

“This money is going to make it possible for us to bounce back from this pandemic and sustain our operations,” Simpson said.

It was the first time the Springfield Museums closed for an extended period of time in its 164-year history.

“It was shocking,” Simpson said.

Designed to help live performance venues, theaters and museums, the program offers up to 45 percent of a venue’s 2019 revenue up to a maximum of $10 million.

The funds were part of the $900 billion American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed last December.

Since July, more than $27 million has been given to 39 venues in Massachusetts’ First Congressional District represented by Springfield Democrat Richard Neal.

“This was not about corruption, this was not about malfeasance, instead this was about combating a pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in over a century,” Neal said.

Statewide, more than $300 million from the program has been awarded to over 300 venues, said Bob Nelson, the SBA’s Massachusetts District Director.

“90 percent of the SVOC grant dollars have gone to small entities – entities that have 50 employees or less,” Nelson said.

The Springfield Museums are not only a renowned cultural institution but a major tourist attraction.

After falling off a cliff in 2020, the tourism industry rebounded this summer in western Massachusetts, said May Kay Wydra, President of the Greater Springfield Visitors and Convention Bureau.

“In the spring when gathering restrictions were lifted, vaccinations started going into people’s arms. pent up demand for travel was definitely there,” Wydra said. “We saw visitation this summer. Our numbers show that with occupancy at hotels.”

The hotel occupancy rate in greater Springfield in August was 69.4 percent, according to the visitors’ bureau’s data. That was slightly higher than the rate in August 2019.

Leisure travel was almost completely responsible for the increase, said Wydra. Convention business has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

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