Great Falls tenants move, look for new sites as demolition approaches

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AUBURN — The signs on the front of the Great Falls Performing Arts Center tell the story.

A new sign on the Academy Street entrance declares the building is home to the Community Little Theatre group.

Farther west, near the High Street intersection, the second-story sign advertising Dance Center LA is gone. It was taken down Wednesday morning.

And immediately below, in front of the SHARE Center’s entrance, a handmade sign declares “Moving Sale Today.” Down the stairs, near the entrance, another sign pleads for help.

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“SHARE center needs a new home! Sign here to be called to help: Pack, Sort, Etc.”

As the city continues to negotiate a 100-year lease with the theater group for the eastern building, tenants in the western building are moving out or looking for new homes. They have until August to relocate before the building is demolished, city officials said.

Some have found new homes.

Dance Center LA owner Elizabeth Hansen and her husband bought the former Merrill Hill School at the corner of Court Street and Western Avenue and are busy renovating it. They plan to move the dance center into the building in June, taking a few of their Great Falls neighbors with them. The Mudroom Pottery Studio and fitness trainer Glenn Atkins will make the move with the Hansens.

“We got a great deal on the building,” Hansen said. “It’s a big step for us and things have really pulled together. We’re looking forward to having a home and being able to expand and grow.”

The future is more uncertain for other Great Falls tenants.

Diane Doe, director of the SHARE Center, said her group has an option for a smaller space somewhere in downtown Lewiston-Auburn.

“But we’d like a bigger space,” Doe said. “With all the volunteers we have and all the things we stock, we need as much room as possible.”

Normand Angers, president, research director and librarian at the Franco-American Genealogical Society, said he had packed 80 boxes of books and historical records in preparation for the move.

“I’ve left out the books we use daily, and the computers and all that,” he said. “But we have a lot of stuff ready to go, but no place to move it to.”

They have a little more time. Auburn Economic Development Director Roland Miller said the city plans to demolish the western half of the building in the fall. He plans to call a tenants’ meeting next week for those that remain, to explain what’s going to happen.

“We know a number of them have end-of-the season activities,” Miller said. “We’ve assured them they will not have to relocate until then.”

City officials  have been discussing the fate of the building since November, when the City Council voted to move all tenants out of the building this month and knock it down in June. That spurred renewed talks between the theater group and the building’s 12 other tenants.

They reached an agreement in April, but it only preserves the eastern half of the building.

According to a memo of understanding with the theater group, the city would lease the space to the theater group for $1 per year through 2110. The city plans to preserve the eastern portion of the building, home to the theater and its costume storage space, the gym, art studios, exercise spaces and vacant offices.

The western side is slated to close and be demolished.

Hansen said her dance studio will finish the season at Great Falls. They’ll close after June 4, reopening at Merrill Hill on June 20.

In addition to the fitness program and the pottery studio, Hansen said she’s talking with a day care center and a music teacher.

“We’re going to have a true arts center up there, now,” she said.

Her studio has been located at Great Falls for eight years.

“And we’ve had a really good run, and the city gave us a great deal then,” she said. “I don’t feel like the city owes us anything at all, now.”

Doe, at the SHARE center, said her goal is to make as much room as possible to get ready for the move. She will continue to take donations from area businesses and factories, re-purposing those goods for use in the schools or in nonprofit programs. Her space in the Great Falls basement is full of notebooks, paper, ribbons, cardboard and other office supplies, as well as wooden knobs, buttons, containers, ribbons and fabric.

The center has a main warehouse, as well as a Topsham satellite store and other storage spaces. Doe said she’s been moving as much as possible into the Great Falls space and putting it on sale, hoping to thin her inventory.

“Then, we need to find a place,” she said. A space between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet downtown would be ideal. They will need volunteers to help them move.

“We know we have a small place, and that’s our ace in the hole,” Doe said. “It’s not ideal and we’d prefer something larger. But we can do it, if we have to.”

staylor@sunjournal.com

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