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Colby College has announced plans for a historic block of buildings it bought in 2015, when it was first making forays into development of Waterville's downtown.
The 24,000-square-foot block at 14-20 Main St. is across from the college's Lockwood Hotel, now under construction, and will become an arts collaborative, funded by a $3 million donation.
Plans call for a total renovation, consolidating the brick four-story connected buildings, with an opening planned for the end of the year. The college, in a news release, said the collaborative is "expected to play an important role in the overarching plan to leverage the arts to help drive the resurgence of downtown Waterville."
The first floor of the buildings will become a combined open space, wtih movable walls, seats and risers, and will be used by the community to engage with art. The exterior facade will include large windows to bring in light, as well as views of Main Street. The space will be used for community performances and cultural activity, such as art exhibitions, poetry readings and musical performances.
The second and third floors will have flexible artist studio and maker spaces, which are being designed to support established and emerging artists.
In the near term, the fourth floor will house the Lunder Institute for American Art staff and affiliates, and also serve as a central convening location for scholars and researchers, the college said.
The 24,000-square-foot block was among the college's first real estate acquisitions downtown. While other, bigger projects have lately been the focus, those buildings are also key to the college's plans.
Colby bought five downtown buildings between 2015 and 2018, including 14-20 Main St. for $274,900. To make way for new development, three of the buildings were torn down, including the former Levine's department store and Camden National Bank building across the street from 14-20 Main St., where the Lockwood is being built.
The college renovated 173 Main St., a few blocks north, finishing the $5 million project in February 2019. That left 14-20 Main St. as the only property of the acquisitions still in flux.
Over the years the college weighed options for the buildings, including looking for an outside developer. In October, Colby President David Greene told Mainebiz that since the purchase "we've probably looked at three or four different models," including more art space for downtown.
When Colby bought the property, no one was sure whether the vacant four-story brick buildings were salvageable. A fire in 2013 had damaged part of the block, which had apartments, a tattoo shop and a pawn shop. A fire in the 1980s had damaged another long-vacant part, which once housed Waterville Hardware and had been vacant for years.
But the college found that the buildings were in good enough shape for reuse, and renovations have been underway for the past couple of years.
Colby is already developing a $20 million arts center at 93 Main St. in partnership with Waterville Creates! and on campus will soon break ground on the Gordon Center for Creative and Performing Arts.
The new project "builds on Waterville’s momentum as a dynamic arts and cultural destination," the college said in a news release. The $3 million is from Peter H. Lunder, a 1957 Colby graduate, and life trustee Paula Crane Lunder through the Lunder Foundation.
"Moreover, the arts collaborative will solidify the convening power of the Lunder Institute to attract artists and scholars from around the world to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogues and to stimulate the production of original art and new collaborations," the release said.
The arts theme will also spread across the street to the Lockwood, which will feature art by Maine-based artists, including works by Bernard Langlais and Tanja Hollander.
"It is hard not to think of the arts first when we think of Peter and Paula Lunder,” Greene said in the release. “But as much as the Lunders value the arts, they are truly remarkable for always considering the needs of others first. This gift is another example of their generosity and selflessness, their desire to strengthen this community and improve the lives of all who call central Maine home."
Greene added that the arts have far-reaching effects. "They enrich us by punctuating our daily routines with moments of brilliance and beauty. They challenge us and reveal the complexities of the human condition and our capacity for creativity. And they inspire us. I could certainly say the same of the Lunders, who bring beauty into our lives and inspire us to find our very best selves.”
Formerly of Waterville, the Lunders pledged the lead gift to build the Lunder Wing at the Colby College Museum of Art, promised their collection of more than 500 works of art to the college, establishing the Lunder Collection, and in 2017 donated an additional 1,150 artworks and endowed funds to establish the Lunder Institute for American Art.
“The arts collaborative that is planned for Main Street in Waterville is meaningful to our family,” said Peter and Paula Lunder. “It brings together those elements that we believe in — creating art and sharing it with the people we admire and the community we enjoyed being a part of for so many years.”
Through the new arts collaborative, Colby also intends to forge a partnership with the Maine College of Art to support students and recent MECA graduates, including MECA Lunder Scholars. This partnership is aimed at providing artists in residence with opportunities in Waterville's arts ecosystem.