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Updated: May 4, 2023

Milbridge theater and community arts center rebuild almost complete

olive green building exterior Courtesy / Gateway Milbridge Construction of a nearly 5,000-square-foot theater and community arts center at 26 Main St. in Milbridge is nearly complete.

Construction of a nearly 5,000-square-foot theater and community arts center at 26 Main St. in Milbridge is nearly complete, with a few more interior touches to finalize.

The Milbridge Theatre and Community Arts Center was designed as a flexible, energy efficient, comfortable and easy to maintain facility that can be enhanced over time with further fundraising. The goal is to ensure an attractive building to serve as a commercial and cultural anchor in the of heart of the downtown for many years. 

“Something like this — a movie theater, a performance arts center, a place for people to gather for other functions — is a vital part of a community,” Town Manager Lewis Pinkham told Mainebiz. 

Pinkham is also chair of Gateway Milbridge, a downtown redevelopment organization that led the effort to build the facility.

seats covered in plastic and red curtain
Courtesy / Gateway Milbridge
The auditorium includes a modern sound and lighting booth above.

The group is planning tours of the facility during Milbridge Days, a three-day festival scheduled for July 27-29, as well as multiple open-house evenings in late summer to offer a tour the interior and an introduction to programming that will be available. 

A firm date for the official opening hasn’t been set yet, said Pinkham.

The group is beginning the process of looking for a manager to hire, he added.

Flexible space, modern systems

With seating for over 210, the auditorium will be the second-largest one in Washington County that’s climate controlled and ADA compliant.

Features of the facility include advanced ecologically-friendly HVAC systems for year-round use, a large stage, professional sound and lighting systems, a full art gallery-community room, a kitchen and a concessions area. Modern film/projection systems are planned for the future and will replace outdoor movie equipment that the group has been using.

2 pairs of double doors
Courtesy / Gateway Milbridge
Refinished auditorium doors from the original theater now serve as a display case.

The arts center was designed to offer flexibility as a performance and event facility, able to host a variety of programming such as concerts, comedy shows, plays and educational presentations. 

A capital campaign that began in 2018 and remains in process estimated the total construction cost at $690,000. The final tally hasn’t been determined yet due to rising construction costs over the past couple of years, said Pinkham. But he noted the campaign has raised around $650,000.

Additional fundraising will be needed to but a modern digital projection system and large theatre screen, a cost estimated to exceed $100,000.

1930s structure demolished

The Milbridge Theatre was built in 1937 and went through several ownership through the decades. The theater closed in 2014. The following year, Gateway Milbridge began raising funds to buy the theatre and restore it. But by 2017, the original building was demolished after being deemed too far gone to be salvaged. A new outdoor performance stage was constructed on the site, and free outdoor music performances and movies began taking place every Friday night during the summer.

In 2020, the outdoor stage was moved to a waterfront location at the town marina. Design plans for a new facility, on the site of the original, were completed and approved by the state. 

During the planning process, the group held community meetings and conducted a community survey to gauge interest and objectives in rebuilding and reopening the facility. 

counter and cabinets
Courtesy / Gateway Milbridge
The new building includes a concession area and kitchen.

“We received numerous responses reflecting overwhelming support to see the theater reopened and expanded as a full-service theater and community arts center offering a wide range of artistic, educational and entertainment programming,” Gateway Milbridge said.

Ground was broken on the project in 2021.

“The lack of entertainment and cultural offerings was keenly felt in our village of 1,300 and across a wide area of Downeast,” Gateway Milbridge wrote on its website.

Funding for the project has come from a variety of sources, including local individuals, local businesses, foundation grants, public grants for community development and volunteer efforts. 

Economic benefits

It’s expected the rebuilt facility will benefit residents of diverse demographics in the rural Downeast region between Ellsworth and Lubec. 

chandelier and windows
Courtesy / Gateway Milbridge
A view of Milbridge can be seen outside the windows of the art gallery and community room.

The theater will show films and also have a broader operational and business scope to include live performances, local talent, historic and art film, educational programs, and other community events. It will provide a venue for the region's youth to develop their artistic and creative interests, gain life and employment skills, and cultivate their sense of civic engagement. A main focus of theatre programming will be on youth involvement in theatre, music, and film; and on providing a real theatre space for use by local schools and youth programs.

Broader economic benefits, the group said, will include theater-goers going out to dinner, buy gas, poke around in local shops, and maybe even spend the night in town and visit nearby communities. 

“With a central gathering place re-established and community activity increased, youth will have greater reason to stick around, and young adults from away may be more attracted to move here,” the group said. “Over time, such activity could inspire entrepreneurs to open new businesses, contributing to the growth and vitality of the region.”

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