Norway Opera House Corporation seeking feasibility study

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RENOVATION — Efforts by the Norway Opera House Corp. to determine the feasibility of renovating the former second-floor theater of the historic downtown building are continuing.

NORWAY — Dennis Gray, the president of the Norway Opera House Corp., said that the corporation hopes that a feasibility study later this year will help it determine whether it makes economic sense to move forward with the $4 million rehabilitation of the building’s second and third floors.

Gray said that while the corporation has not found a company to do the study, members hope to continue moving forward with the building’s rehabilitation in the coming months.

The three-story brick building was built in 1894 by the Norway Building Association and was eventually bought by the town and used to hold concerts, ballroom dances, plays, movies, graduations and town meetings for decades.

It had a succession of private owners after the town sold it in the mid-1970s. The upper floors have been unused for about 30 years. The storefronts had not been occupied since the roof partially collapsed in September 2007 under the weight of water.

The resulting damage and the owner’s failure to adequately stabilize the building led the town to take it by eminent domain in 2009 because it was deemed a public safety hazard.

Efforts to restore the landmark were initially boosted by a $200,000 donation from then-Selectman Bill Damon and his wife, Bea. The money allowed the town to pay former owner Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises of Londonderry, New Hampshire, the court-ordered $180,000 settlement price.

The town was later awarded a $400,000 matching grant to restore six first-floor storefronts. The Norway Opera House Corp. was created and played a pivotal role in saving the building by writing and receiving grants from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, Davis Family Foundation and Maine Community Foundation, and by undertaking fundraisers.

The corporation is now in its fourth phase of rehabilitating the Opera House. The focus is now on the second and third floors.

Gray said that the fourth phase of the Opera House’s rehabilitation had a price tag of “about $4 million, which is an awful lot to raise.”

Earlier this year, the Norway Opera House Corp. received a $25,000 grant from the David Family Foundation to study the feasibility of rehabilitating the theater on the second floor.

“The idea is to look at both floors, the auditorium, the seating, the parking for the building, and get a solid budget drawn up for what it will take to get the floors back in use,” Gray said. “We’re looking for the help of a solid business plan so we can figure out if it’s economically feasible to move forward.”

Gray said that the corporation wants to bring the second floor, which has an auditorium and enough seating for between 600 and 700 people, back into full-time use.

“Before the town stopped using it, it was a multi-use auditorium, where performances were held,” Gray said. “There’s seating for 500 in the main area and 180 seats in the balcony. We want to try and utilize that main area for town events, whether it’s town meetings or Chamber of Commerce dinners.”

Among the fixes necessary in the fourth phase of the building’s rehabilitation includes “fixing the building’s back wall and windows” and “constructing an elevator.”

Those who wish to donate to the Norway Opera House can visit www.saveouroperahouse.org.

mdaigle@sunmediagroup.net

(Leslie Dixon contributed to this story)