Norway moves to settle Opera House payment

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NORWAY — Town Manager David Holt will meet with Opera House owner Barry Mazzaglia next month to see if they can come to an agreement over the value of the dilapidated Main Street edifice.

“I’ll be sitting down with Barry to try to discuss the situation and reach a compromise solution,” Holt told the Board of Selectmen at its Thursday night meeting.

The mediation session will be held June 9 at the Oxford County Superior Court in Paris as part of the legal process under way since voters gave the go-ahead to selectmen to take the property by eminent domain late last year.

The board then released $185,000 of a $200,000 donation from Bill and Beatrice Damon to the Oxford County Superior Court to be held pending a determination by a judge on what price the town will have to pay to obtain the building. The three-story brick building that sits on about a quarter-acre of land was appraised at $185,000 by Patricia Amidon of Amidon Appraisal Co. in Portland.

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Mazzaglia, of Bitim Enterprises in Londonderry, N.H., has stated in court papers that he believes the town’s assessment of the property is “flawed,” and that the actual assessed value is “substantially higher.”

Holt said he does not know if Mazzaglia has had the property assessed yet, but expects that if medication fails the judge will look at assessed values by both parties to make a determination.

Holt said the town’s offer has been “more than generous.”

A portion of the Opera House’s sagging roof collapsed on Sept. 21, 2007, severing a sprinkler pipe and flooding the building. Engineers discovered rotted roof braces, among other structural damage that compromised the stability of the building. Two engineering studies have deemed the structure to be unsafe to the public and neighboring property.

Attempts to work out a solution to stabilize the 1894 downtown centerpiece have been unsuccessful, as have been attempts to buy it from Mazzaglia, resulting in the eminent domain proceeding. Mazzaglia bought it in 2003 for $225,000 after it was placed on the state’s Most Endangered Historic Properties list by Maine Preservation of Portland. He was offered $200,000 for it last year by Damon and turned it down.

“No one should derive any particular message from this. It’s mandated by the law,” Holt said of the mediation session. “If there is an agreement to be made we will try to reach it,” he said, stressing the town will offer no more than it already has.

“We have a cap. We only have so much money,” Selectman Russ Newcomb said.

“If the mediation doesn’t work we will go forward to the judge,” Holt said.

The Opera House was built by the Norway Building Association, then owned by the town from 1920 to the mid-1970s, and then by a succession of private owners for the past 30 years or so. The ballroom and balcony on the upper floors played host to the community life of Norway, including concerts, balls, traveling minstrel shows, theater performances, National Guard musters, town meetings and high school graduation ceremonies. The top stories have been unused since a movie theater closed in the 1970s, and the five ground-floor storefronts have had occupants off and on over the years.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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