Date set to vote on Opera House grant

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NORWAY — Selectmen on Thursday set Oct. 20 for a town meeting to accept a $400,000 state grant to renovate storefronts in the Opera House.

The meeting, which will be held as part of the regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting that day, will be preceded by a public hearing, beginning at 7 p.m.

The hearing and vote are required as part of the Communities for Maine’s Future grant rules in order to receive the funding.

The $400,000 matching grant would pay for refurbishing the basement area, wiring and plumbing, and bringing the basement and ground floor of the Main Street landmark up to code.

The town is working with the Norway Opera House Corp. to use state historic tax credits in partnership with Norway Savings Bank to further stretch the CfMF dollars. The corporation will also be asked to take over ownership of the building, once the town determines whether it can take advantage of any of historic tax credits itself for money the town has put into the stabilization of the building, Town Manager David Holt said.

Holt told selectmen Thursday that he will meet with a tax credit expert at the law firm of Bernstein Shur of Portland to get a better handle on how the state historic tax credit will work and to see if the project is eligible for any federal historic tax credits.

The corporation plans to get a loan from Norway Savings Bank for the matching for the $400,000 and collateralize it by the value of the Opera House property and the tax credits.

“It makes the project more affordable for the Norway Opera House Corp.,”  Holt said of the tax credits.

Holt said the town is investigating the best way to leverage state and federal tax credits and will proceed with the transfer of ownership based on how the most money can be leveraged.

The 1894 Opera House is the centerpiece of the downtown historic district. The town took the three-story brick edifice by eminent domain last year because it was deemed structurally unsound and a public hazard. The upper floors have been vacant for decades and the first-floor storefronts since part of the roof collapsed in September 2007.

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