LEWISTON – Lionel Guay, the Franco-American Heritage Center’s first president, has stepped down.
With March’s unveiling of a new Steinway piano, regular weekend performances and sold-out shows, he decided a milestone had been reached and the time had come, he said.
“I think I brought the center as far as I can,” he said Thursday.
And, at 64, he has grown weary.
“I’m certainly tired of doing all these things,” he said.
The second-term Lewiston mayor stepped down last September as the chairman of the Festival de Joie, a decision that contributed to the festival’s demise.
It also contributed to the heritage center’s move to create its own summer event, Festival FrancoFun, to debut this August.
Guay is proud of his accomplishments as the center’s president.
It was his call to Maine’s Roman Catholic diocese that began the process of saving St. Mary’s Church in the city’s Little Canada neighborhood.
The grand, Gothic church had been deemed too costly to maintain and was scheduled for demolition.
Guay made the call to the diocese. Then, he collected information and gathered some friends.
“He was the key person who started the whole thing,” said Rita Dube, now the center’s executive director. “He made a huge contribution to the community.”
In 2000, Guay, Dube and others convinced the diocese to sell them the church for $1. Their aim: to create a performing arts hub and a place to celebrate Franco-American culture.
“We’ve come a long way from that bunch of people sitting around a table, wondering how we were going to pay the heating bill,” Guay said. “Many a night did I ask, What the heck did I get myself into?'”
The biggest hurdle was convincing people to buy into their dream, seeing all the work there was to do, he said.
“It still has a ways to go,” Guay said. Plans call for the creation of a museum and library in the basement. However, the finished performing arts center is “one of the finest entertainment venues this side of Boston,” Guay said. “Never in my wildest imagination did I think it would turn out so nice.”
Guay plans to continue serving as a member of the center’s board of directors and on its finance committee. Former Lewiston police Chief Laurent Gilbert Sr. has been named interim president.
Whoever gets the permanent job, Guay hopes the new president can breathe fresh air into the organization.
“After five and a half years in the job, there’s a danger of getting stale,” he said. “I didn’t want that to happen. This center has to continue.”