PITTSFIELD — Town leaders have long sought to sell the municipally owned Pittsfield Community Theatre, and a few weeks ago they finally had an offer.

A couple came forward in September with a bid, but it was well below the asking price and the Town Council chose not to accept it.

Councilors then declined to reduce the asking price of $149,900, and the town now appears to be back where it started, as the owner of a closed theater that has generated little interest from buyers and needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades and repairs.

Don Chute, director of the Pittsfield Public Works Department, exits the auditorium last Tuesday while walking the now-closed Pittsfield Community Theatre at 137 Main St. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

In the two years the theater at 137 Main St. has been on the market, no one had made an offer to buy it — until this fall, according to Michael Gray, vice president of the Pittsfield Economic Expansion Corp.

The PEEC is a nonprofit group that works with the town on economic development and was asked by the Town Council to find a buyer for the property. But despite the council’s reducing the price last year to $149,900, any interested parties were reportedly put off by how much work the building needs, Gray said.

PEEC was approached by Hammer Down Inc., a company owned by Michael and Tammy Smith, who are originally from the area and recently moved back to town. The couple were looking for a passion project, Gray said, and offered $20,000 for the property, unbothered by the amount of work it needs.

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Although the offer was well less than the asking price, PEEC vetted the company and recommended town councilors move forward with the offer, Gray said. The building has become a liability to the town, he said, and the Smiths were looking to revive it as a movie theater and entertainment venue.

“It was the dream proposal,” Gray said.

He thought it would be an easy vote last month when it came time for the Town Council to pass a resolution to bring the offer to a public hearing. After all, it was not a vote for final approval.

Gray said he was surprised when several town councilors said they had serious concerns.

Councilors said if they were willing to accept such a low offer, they should reduce the asking price and give other potential buyers opportunity to make an offer.

Councilor Lindsay Holmstrom said she was concerned the sale agreement stipulated the building would remain a theater as long as economically viable. Holmstrom said she would like to see a business plan before moving forward.

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Councilor Jason Hall added, “If we’re going to entertain offers that low, then we should list it that low to see what else is out there for people that will want to make a similar type of investment in the theater and make it more of a competitive process.”

With those objections in mind, the Town Council voted 3-2 against bringing the offer to a hearing. Councilors also declined to act at a meeting earlier this month on a recommendation from the town’s real estate agents that the asking price be reduced to $65,000.

Don Chute, director of the Pittsfield Public Works Department, enters the now-closed Pittsfield Community Theatre last Tuesday. The Town Council recently declined an offer to sell the town-owned building at 137 Main St., in part because the bid was well less than the asking price of $149,900. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Mayor Michael Cianchette has said he hoped the Smiths would return with additional information so the offer could move forward, but Tammy Smith said she and her husband intended to withdraw it.

“The town of Pittsfield actually lost the best and most-viable purchaser of that property that we’ve ever had,” Gray said.

The theater opened in 1915 and had several owners over the decades, until the town bought it in 1977 for $24,000. It was largely regarded as a public service offering, like a library or recreation program, that was not meant to turn a profit, Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said.

As time went on, the theater made less and less money, and as budgets grew tighter, town officials became reluctant to continue subsidizing it, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the theater to close in 2020. That fall, the Town Council voted to put the theater up for sale instead of reopening it. These days, it is dark and empty, except when workers with the Public Works Department do a weekly walkthrough, Ruth said. The town still pays to heat the building.

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Prior to the theater’s closing, there was a town committee that had been formed to operate the venue. The group had looked into transitioning to nonprofit ownership, with the theater operating independently from the town. Holmstrom said at a recen

t Town Council meeting that some members of the committee were still interested in pursuing such a plan.

Holmstrom said she wants to give the group time to come back with a full proposal, although that could take months. Other councilors said they were concerned about waiting even longer for a nonprofit to take ownership.

“There’s no fire, right?” Holmstrom said. “This has been empty. It’s been 2 1/2 years, nothing has happened. And we’ve had one meeting with one offer, and it’s all of sudden, like, let’s race to the finish line. I think we should take a moment to pause to consider our options.”

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