Tenants of future Waterville arts center building find new homes

BY Maureen Milliken

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Nine tenants have moved out of 93 Main St. in Waterville, left, in anticipation of it being renovated into an arts center. The Waterville Opera House is on the second floor of City Hall, right, and that's part of the plan too.

When Waterville Community Dental moved out of 93 Main St., Waterville, at the end of December, it was the last of nine tenants to move from the building to make way for a new arts center.
The 64,000-square-foot building, owned by Waterville Creates!, will undergo a renovation that will trim it nearly in half when it becomes the arts center, a collaboration between the arts organization and Colby College.
“When we determined what the plan was for the building, we met with each tenant so they’d have time,” said Shannon Haines, president and CEO of of Waterville Creates!, which owns the building.
That was last year, and tenants were given about a year to move out.
Those moving from the building included relocation and procurement firm Parsifal, Waterville Community Dental, Maine Made & More retail store, WABI TV Channel 5, and nonprofits REM and Hardy Girls Healthy Women. The rehearsal space for Waterville Opera House and several offices for Waterville city government — City Hall is next door — also had to move, as did Waterville Creates!, and its Common Street Arts gallery.
The building's transformation began three years ago, when Waterville Creates! moved across Castonguay Square from 16 Common St. The organization, which was established in 2014 from Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center, is a nonprofit with partners that include Colby College Museum of Art, Common Street Arts, Maine Film Center, Waterville Opera House and Waterville Public Library.

The building, part of which was built in 1938 as a Montgomery Ward department store and part that dates to the late 1800s, had to be renovated, arts center or no arts center, said both Haines and Brian Clark, vice president of planning at Colby College.
“Something was going to happen, no matter what,” Haines said.
When Sterns department store closed in 1996, the building was bought by a group that formed the Waterville Regional Arts and Community Center. The purpose, Haines said, was to help keep downtown vital, and the collaboration, just like today's, involved Colby College.
The 64,000 square-foot building will be reduced to 32,000 square feet under the arts center plan.
The building is connected by a second-floor pedestrian bridge to City Hall and the Waterville Opera House, but that connection will grow with a two-story atrium, which will also replace much of the brick facade along Castonguay Square.
“The building was beyond the end of its useful life,” said Clark.
He said it was a challenge to keep up with maintenance, and potential safety issues were cropping up.
Both Clark and Haines said relocating tenants had a lot of moving parts that involved both Waterville Creates! and Colby College, as well as the Central Maine Growth Council and the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
“This was a huge undertaking,” Haines said.
The Central Maine Growth Council offered assistance and met with, or communicated with, the majority of the tenants, said Garvan Donegan, CMGC executive director. He said the organization checked on the status of the business, considered resource opportunities and talked about potential site options.
“Similarly, CMGC was in direct and constant communication with Waterville Creates! ... to assist in ensuring a smooth transition for all involved,” he said. “CMGC’s planning, economic development, and site location assistance services and consulting were complementary to all interested tenants.”

The dental office of the nonprofit Kennebec Valley Dental Coalition cares for low-income and uninsured patients, moved to 2 Evergreen Drive at First Park in Oakland. It had been at 93 Main St. for 18 years.
“They were the ones we were most concerned about,” Haines said. Aside from the infrastructure needed for dental equipment, the business still had to be accessible for its patients.
It found that space in the business park in 4,000 square feet formerly leased by MaineGeneral as a physical therapy office. The physical therapy group moved out in the fall.
Kennebec Valley Dental Coalition bought the building for $380,000 and it had to undergo another $800,000 in renovations, paid for with a USDA loan, a grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation and individual donations.
“One of the things that they’ve said is that they now have space to work,” Clark said.

The nonprofit was the first tenant to move out, in 2017, months before the decision on what to do with the building was made.
The organization — REM stands for Revitalizing the Energy in ME — is a community outreach group aimed at improving community quality of life. It had been in 93 Main St. for 21 years, ever since the building was reconfigured as The Center. Much of that time was spent in ground-floor Main Street space.
In 2016, when Common Street Arts was moved to the building, it moved to the basement and was already looking for new space when the arts center plan emerged.
It moved into 2,280 square feet at 31 Temple St., where Let’s Talk Language School had been until it closed in 2014.
The group now has room for a community center, and also rents space for meetings and functions, including kitchen space.

The gift shop, which had Main Street storefront space in its former location, in May moved a block away to 50 Concourse West, in 2,560 square feet bought for $165,000 after Beverly’s Cardsmart closed.
The business, owned by Paige Zirtidis, also has a seasonal Belgrade Lakes store, and recently closed a store at the Topsham Fair Mall.
Haines said that one of the issues for the store when it was on Main Street was parking. The Concourse, which is a strip mall that also includes Goodwill, Big Lots, Dollar General, The Villager restaurant, Yardgoods and Pagoda Express Chinese restaurant, has an expansive parking area.
The new store is also in the shadow of Colby’s new Alfond Commons residential at mixed use building, which is at the northwest corner of The Concourse, at 150 Main St.

The relocation and procurement technology firm, with corporate headquarters in Palm Bay, Fla., moved in November into 14,037 square feet of space on 3.14 acres at 50 Eskelund Drive in Fairfield.
It bought the property early in 2018 in an expansive development site formerly owned by nearby Kennebec County Community College that’s a quick distance from Exit 132 of Interstate 95.
“They were already going to move,” Haines said, of the expanding firm.
Parsifal officials said in November that it employs 60 at its new site, up from between 35 and 35 at the Waterville site, and plans to add more.

Other moves from 93 Main St. include Waterville Creates!, which is leasing space in the Hathaway Creative Center, as well as its Common ‘Street Arts Gallery, which had been in first-floor storefront space next to Castonguay Square at 93 Main St.
Down the hall in the Hathaway is rehearsal space for the Waterville Opera House, which was also displaced from the Main Street building.
The nonprofit Hardy Girls Healthy Women is working out of Bricks Coworking and Innovation Space, also in the Hathaway.
WABI-TV Channel 5’s Waterville bureau moved in July from 984 square feet to a space about the same size multi-office building at 155 Silver St., which has the parking 93 Main St. didn’t have.
The City Council Chambers, which was in the building, no longer exist. The Waterville City Council now holds its meetings in the Chace Community Forum in the Alfond Commons building two blocks north.
One benefit for the Opera House, which is on the second floor of adjacent City Hall, is that its box office has moved from its third-floor space at 93 Main St. to outside the Opera House entrance in City Hall.

Architects Susan T. Rodriguez of New York City and G-O Logic of Belfast developed the preliminary designs for the renovated space.
The art center project, expected to cost $18 to $20 million, is still “all very conceptual,” as fundraising continues, Clark said.
Once the money is in place, construction will take about 18 months.
The center will include a contemporary arts gallery, supported by a $2 million donation from former trustee Paul Schupf last year.
Waterville Creates! will move back in and there will be space for Opera House rehearsals again.
The new design will make the entry to the Opera House more accessible. The current public access is from a side door to City Hall. The plan would give the Opera House, which underwent a $5 million renovation in 2012, a Main Street presence.
The building will also be home to what is now Railroad Square Cinema, as well as the Maine Film Center, a cafe, Common Street Arts gallery, and multi-purpose arts education sites.
The center is part of a $100 million investment Colby is making in downtown Waterville, which includes renovation of five other buildings, a hotel and the recent opening of 100,000-square-foot Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.