History, memories and weddings tied up in Agora Grand renovation

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LEWISTON — Rose Small said she really doesn’t know what to think.

On one hand, she’s happy the former St. Patrick’s Church, where she attended, has been redeveloped and has a new life as the Agora Grand Event Center.

But on the other, it was her parish. Her memories are tied up in the place — she and her sister, Grace, would walk to the church at 220 Bates St. from their New Auburn home every Saturday and Sunday for catechism and Mass.

She was married in the church. So was Grace, and so was Grace’s daughter. The sisters attended services there until it was decommissioned by the Catholic Diocese in 2009.

“It’s beautiful, but I just can’t see it,” she said. “I don’t know, just so many memories. But people will use it.”

Small joined her sister, Grace Keene, and her husband, Hugh, on Friday as developer Andrew Knight, the man behind the Agora Grand Events Center, received an award from the Lewiston Historic Preservation Board.

Knight began repurposing the circa-1890 St. Patrick’s Church into a modern venue for conventions, private celebrations and weddings in 2015 and opened it this spring.

The church’s main hall has gained a bartending station, most of the pews have been removed to open the floor and the choir loft has been turned into a two-story lounge. The church’s smaller chapel has been largely preserved as a wedding venue.

The smaller circa-1870 rectory building opened as a five-bed boutique hotel in 2015.

Since its opening, the center has hosted the Maine Libertarian Party Convention, a film as part of the Emerge Film Festival and a grand opening celebration.

On Saturday, it’s hosting its first wedding — the wedding of Knight and fiancee Annie Kathleen Allen. The couple will be married in the adjoining chapel, and then come across to the main hall of the church for their reception.

The Gothic-style church was built in 1890 and designed by Rhode Island architect James Murphy. At one time, it contained a 6,000-pound bell and 13 stained-glass windows made by Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany. The stained glass was installed in 1927 but most of the windows were removed by the Roman Catholic Church and sold to a Japanese company in 2011.

Bill Clifford, chairman of Lewiston’s Historic Preservation Board, said the community was lucky to have Knight step forward.

“Today we are honoring him for his hard work, his vision and his foresight for saving these wonderful buildings and saving them for another purpose,” Clifford said.

Knight’s sister, Danielle Schill of Washington, D.C., said the family tried to talk him out of the project when they first learned about it.

“He was redeveloping a huge old church in a part of the country that none of us had ever heard of,” Schill said. “We didn’t think he could do it, but he does have a habit of proving us all wrong.”

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