Arts groups scramble after Great Falls decision

AUBURN — Actors, directors, teachers, potters and dancers Tuesday began planning for life without the aging Great Falls Arts Center.

Great Falls School closing
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"It's pretty devastating, honestly. This was my dream come true to have a space like this," said Lindsey Tomlinson-Peck of losing the Great Falls School in Auburn where her business, The Mudroom Pottery Studio, is located. Along with losing space, Tomlinson-Peck will lose a "substantial" investment she had put into the building when the room was rewired for her kiln.

Tennants of the Great Falls School

  • The Mudroom Pottery Studio
  • Next Step Fitness
  • Camire School of Dance
  • Franco Genealogy
  • Finer Points Dance Shop
  • Community Little Theatre
  • Bom Dia Studio (Craft)
  • Susan Coady (yoga)
  • Kip Elliott Graphic Design
  • Hillastration Designs (Artist)
  • The Dance Center
  • Jamie Tomlinson (Artist)
  • SHAREcenter
  • Edward Little High School Drama
  • Source: City of Auburn

Some were in shock. Some sped up preparations to relocate and others hoped to make a final plea for the survival of the downtown arts hub.

"We're not going to go dark," vowed Thomas Peters, vice president of the 70-year-old Community Little Theatre. "We can't."

City councilors voted Monday night to close the complex in May 2011 and to raze it a month later.

The move may end more than a decade of debate over what to do with the former Great Falls School on Academy Street, once the city's high school.

Fourteen tenants — including a dance studio, a fitness center and a genealogy workshop — would be forced to relocate or close.

"My head is kind of spinning," said Lindsey Tomlinson-Peck, who runs The Mudroom Pottery Studio in a former classroom. "I felt like I was just getting going."

She started the business in March, offering a variety of pottery workshops and classes. She knew that the fate of the building was uncertain, but she also knew such talk had a long history.

"This was my dream," she said. She could afford the modest rent and spent thousands of dollars to outfit her area with a kiln and other equipment.

"My hope is to find another space," she said.

The Edward Little High School Drama Club will also be hunting for space if the demolition plan goes through.

Without the arts center, the high school will have no drama club, said Deb Bishop, who oversees the after-school program.

"I'm in shock," she said Tuesday. She had gone into Monday's City Council meeting expecting a change in rent or the amount of space her kids might be allotted.

The club has about 35 core members. This weekend, they completed the year's biggest show, performing "Pippin" for overflowing audiences. If the club is forced out in May, the fate of the senior show may be in jeopardy, she said.

For now, she plans to talk with school leaders and her students.

"What does this mean for us? I really don't know," she said.

In the basement occupied by the SHAREcenter, a nonprofit group that shares donated supplies and offers job training, the news merely sped up plans to get out, Director Diane Doe said.

"I'm sure we will relocate," she said.

On Tuesday, Community Little Theatre's Peters, a Lewiston lawyer, listened to suggestions and offers for help from around the community. On Saturday, the theater company's Board of Directors plans to meet and decide the next move.

"Do they want to go any further with this building and this site?" he asked.

Were the city to offer the building to Community Little Theatre — the complex's oldest and biggest tenant — Peters wondered how that might work.

The costs would be considerable.

In 2008, the amateur theater company and the city hired an analysis of the building.

Though it’s old and in ill repair, analysts found that it is structurally sound. They estimated the cost of renovating the building at $7.5 million to $10 million. They predicted that tearing it down and building a new arts center might cost $15 million.

The report suggested re-branding the building, creating a quasi-governmental organization to run it and market the space to arts groups.

Little happened.

The building currently loses money: about $29,000 during the 2009-10 fiscal year — and $240,000 over four years. This year, the city expects to spend $63,247 on the building, almost half of that for heating fuel.

Councilors argued that the building is too expensive to keep.

If the building is demolished, Peters believes Community Little Theatre will go on.

The first mission would be to find a temporary home to continue its work while it raises money and readies a new performance space.

"We're going to try and Band-Aid it somehow," he said.

Then, a permanent home must be found. It might open the institution up to federal, state and private grants that have so far been out of reach. Without a long-term lease, many groups with money to grant refuse to give.

Peters believes leaders in the city of Auburn must decide if they want to keep the long-running institution.

"There is no vision," he said. "I am no longer worried about leaving Auburn."

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 's picture

Seems like this is always an

Seems like this is always an "all or nothing" proposal to the city council. or it's an all or nothing SOLUTION by the city council. I can't tell. I have a few questions, shouldn't someone have noticed the loss of money during the afore mentioned fiscal years? Shouldn't the tenants pay for their occupancy of that building? Ya know, to MEET the expenses of BEING there? And by default, if we truly appreciate what is being offered at this building, and I do, wouldn't we be WILLING to pay a little more for it? Like a few more dollars for one of the plays the theater produces?, or the pottery classes etc.? It seems like the monetary loss just proves someone was asleep at the switch. We need to pay a little more for the arts and education of the arts provided with this building. Including an amortization of the losses incurred by the city. The building, and the arts are not replacable. It truly is an historic site. What is INFERRED, emphasis, tone, intent, is that we would have to pay 10-15 MILLION dollars IMMEDIATELY, to renovate this building, can't this be spread, through our support, over YEARS. I confess that I hav eonly been to the theater, and had a GREAT time, didn't even know the rest was in there. It would be a sad, sad, loss for us all if we don't reverse this. We always have alternatives.

 's picture

To further what I was saying

To further what I was saying about the Bates Mill, those that oppose it don't see the benefit. The Bates Mill is literally across the bridge (From Bonney Park to Simard-Payne Park). Think about it this way the businesses in this building would still be in L/A, who cares which city it is in. One thing that Lewiston/Auburn can not afford is losing our art programs. Like I said in that statement Bates mill has space that is unoccupied, why not use and keep these art programs in L/A?

 's picture

It is time that we the Auburn

It is time that we the Auburn taxpayers stop throwing money into this fiasco. If you folks from surrounding areas want the services housed in the building use YOUR MONEY to help them.

 's picture

Plenty of room in the Bates

Plenty of room in the Bates Mill.

 's picture

Bob is correct

The city is losing money on the building on a yearly basis. Either the tenants would need to make up that loss or someone looking to make money on the situation would buy the building. Since that is not happening what incentive does the city have to keep footing the bill? Maine taxes are the answer for why job growth is so sluggish. Maine has an ample work force. The government should be targeting businesses and offering them incentives in the form of tax breaks to establish or expand in Maine. Stop focusing on the how much revenue a tax break on the front end costs and focus on the back end rewards. If you provide a business an incentive to open in Maine there really is no loss of revenue since you were not collecting on them in the first place. If they bring in 80-100 jobs, that is revenue in the form of payroll taxes, sales tax on what they spend their dollars on, etc. That revenue will more than make up for the 'lost' revenue on the front end. Only a good economy will support the arts. Until the state does something to really provide businesses a reason to grow in Maine, taxes will continue to rise and the economy and the arts will continue to suffer.

 's picture

I say we fight

Lets form a human chain around that building on demo day.

 's picture

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats

(Note: I write this as an artist who has been painting for 52 years and as one who has actually sold hundreds of paintings.)

A strong arts culture depends upon a strong economy for support. For years, I have struggled to get a message of the need for a strong business base in Maine, and in Lewiston-Auburn, specifically. The voters continue to elect anti-business legislators and send them to Augusta and Washington to do their damage.

We cannot continue to do this. It will be another two years before we can correct the problem, and we'll continue to lose the arts because it takes people with good paying, private sector jobs to support the arts.

Why is a strong business base so difficult for people to understand? Why does the Sun-Journal continue to support the wrong team for prosperity?

 's picture

I would add that a

I would add that a civilization cannot survive without culture; art, music, dance, theater. ..

 's picture

Nothing like putting a bunch

Nothing like putting a bunch more people out of jobs, Auburn. What was that about wanting a casino so you could get more jobs?


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