Odd Fellows work stalls

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NORWAY – The Oxford Hills Growth Council told Norway selectmen last week that renovations on the historic – and empty – Odd Fellows building on Main Street will be delayed as it seeks a new source of funding.

The news comes as town leaders question recommending appropriations at town meetings for the council, an organization devoted to revving economic development in the region.

Selectman Les Flanders said by phone Monday, “If something is not done (at the Odd Fellows building) by town meeting time, if people don’t see some progress up there, people might react when they vote on the warrant.”

Selectmen have recommended raising $12,000 for the council.

Paris has slashed its recommended amount to $2,500, and Oxford has decided to give $6,000 for the first six months and then reevaluate the second half of the funding.

Town officials have questioned the effectiveness of the council and whether townspeople’s money is being used to the best advantage.

Brett Doney, council director, has said that economic development is a long, lengthy and arduous process and towns in the region need to support the council’s work because nobody else is focused exclusively on returning jobs and more prosperity to this region hard-hit by the loss of manufacturers.

The 112-year-old Odd Fellows building was bought by the council in 2002. Three years ago, the council received a $500,000 grant that it matched with another half-million dollars. The money was supposed to pay for the demolition and reconstruction of the interior of the building. Only a fraction of it has been spent.

Now the council says the cost of fixing the building infrastructure and renovating only the first floor will be nearly $2 million.

The council says it wants to to fix the historic structure to attract occupants and help bring more activity and commerce to Main Street.

The council gutted the interior last fall, but then the equipment and crew cleared out and nothing has happened at the site for months.

In early April, the council told selectmen work would resume on the building by mid-April.

Doney said last week in a telephone interview, “We definitely should not have done that. We apologize to selectmen for that. We try to usually convey as accurate information as we have at the time.”

The delay results from the council seeking National Park Service tax credits for the rehabilitation of the historic building. To do that, the designs for the store front and interior have to be changed to fit a higher standard. For instance, instead of aluminum, the storefront has to be wood.

The tax credits will result in $240,000 of funding, $40,000 of which will be used to fix the building facade.

“We’ll come out $200,000 ahead,” Doney said. “So it’s a significant benefit to the project.”

Doney said the council did not initially seek the tax credits when it started planning its fundraising strategy for the building because the National Park Service required 35 percent of the space be occupied by nonprofits. At the time, it was believed that the building would be filled mainly by local nonprofits.

Doney said as soon as the National Park Service has reviewed the new design by the architect, the work will be put out to bid.

“This is what happens when you tackle very difficult projects that no one else will tackle. They are very difficult and challenging. We know going in that any project is going to be an unchartered course and rarely is it easy,” Doney said.


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