Norway board OKs transfer of Opera House

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NORWAY — The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Thursday night to allow Town Manager David Holt to sign papers transferring ownership of the Opera House to the Norway Opera House Corp.

The action is expected to take place within the next several days.

“We don’t have any time to spare,” Holt told selectmen. The transaction needs to be completed rapidly in order to take advantage of federal and state historic rehab tax credits amounting to more than $400,000.

That money will be coupled with a $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future Grant received last fall and $180,000 in private donations that the corporation is raising to complete the $1.1 million renovation of the six, first-floor storefronts.

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That work on the three-story brick edifice on Main Street is expected to go out to bid in May with construction starting this summer.

Because of the need to transfer the ownership quickly in order to send in the application to the Maine Preservation Commission to start the tax credit process, Holt said the deed has been written in a slightly different manner than previously discussed to save time.

Under the deed that will be signed shortly, the town will retain ownership of the four-faced clock and bell and all the mechanisms associated with each, but not the brick and masonry tower they’re in. The town will retain the right to access the clock works when necessary.

Previously, the town intended to keep ownership of the entire clock tower from the roofline of the Opera House to the weather vane.

The language is considered only temporary. Holt said, and others agreed at the meeting, that the deed can be revised at a later date to show the board’s desire to eventually rewrite the deed so the town owns the entire clock tower. That action will take more time to draw up the proper legal boundaries.

Norway Downtown President Andrea Burns said the fact that the project has come to this point is a “momentous” event.

The spaces that will be renovated will be brought up to code, made energy efficient and have updated bathrooms and other amenities. All historic aspects of the first floor’s interior, including the tin ceilings and built-in shelving, and the exterior, including the transoms, which will be uncovered, will be retained.

It is expected that the Norway Opera House Corp. will eventually look for a buyer for the building. It will be able to do the $1.1 million renovation work with no debt if it can raise the $180,000.

“That’s amazing,” Burns said.

The 1894 Opera House, once the center of town civic and cultural events, has been vacant since a section of the roof collapsed in 2007. The town took it by eminent domain in 2010, because it was deemed a public safety hazard, and reinforced the back wall. The first floor has been vacant since the roof collapse and the upper floors closed for decades.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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