Under one roof

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LEWISTON – Gone is the dark, windowless office and – for the time being, anyway – the clutter.

In its stead: warm brick walls, deep mullioned windows and the gleam of new polished surfaces.

“I have windows. I have light,” said Chip Morrison, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, as he swung around in his chair, gesturing to the two bright windows in his new office. “It’s taking a little getting used to.”

Morrison and his staff of five moved into the first floor of the newly renovated Business Service Center at KeyBank Plaza on Monday. The former Pontiac Building houses the chamber, and three floors above, the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council and its sister organizations: the Maine International Trade Center, Coastal Enterprises Inc., the Auburn and Lewiston development corporations, and PTAC, the federal contract assistance program.

It’s the culmination of a 10-year dream shared by Morrison and growth council director Lucien Gosselin to bring all the business-assistance organizations under one roof. The quasi-public bodies are paying for their condo space through their budgets and subleases. A $500,000 capital campaign by the chamber paid for its first-floor space – a goal that was reached in less than a year.

A testament to that campaign is featured in the lobby of the chamber suite: a brick column, covered with nameplates of major donors. Outside, the sign KeyBank Plaza reflects the $100,000 the bank paid for naming rights.

“This is beautiful space,” said Morrison as he walks around the 5,000-square-foot suite. Architectural details of the 100-year-old building were preserved by Platz Associates, in line with historical preservation requirements. Huge wooden beams transverse the ceiling, running alongside bright aluminum vents – an attractive marriage of old and new. The building’s original tin ceilings were beyond repair, but a mold from them ensured an exact replica for the huge, first-floor conference room.

The 1,000-square-foot conference room contains an expandable, cherry veneer table that easily accommodates the 24 members of the growth council’s board, or the 30 chamber directors. The space will be wired for electronic presentations and audio/video conferencing.

Friday morning was the first time the chamber directors met in the new space, delighted that everyone had a seat at the table rather than being forced to line up against the wall as in their old office at 179 Lisbon St.

“It’s really exciting for a number of reasons,” said Jan Barrett, new chairwoman of the chamber board. “No. 1, because it’s in a historic building that was once a location of a business downtown. Now it is going to be a center where business will be served. People will be able to walk into this building and have various areas of need filled in one setting. That’s valuable, especially to businesses just starting out.”

The rest of the chamber suite provides spacious work stations for staff, a kitchen, a smaller conference room and technology room.

On the fourth floor, the growth council and its neighbors are also enjoying their new digs. A central work area with shared filed cabinets, copier/printer, and fax machine anchors the space, with offices rimming it.

It, too, has a new conference room, one that accommodates about 14 with a wet bar and a new HDTV mounted on the wall that will provide screen space for video displays and other presentations. Paul Badeau, marketing director for the growth council, says he’s been getting ribbed all week about what a perfect space it would for watching the Super Bowl.

Perhaps, but that’s not what excites him about it.

“You have no idea how often I’d be fiddling with rabbit ears in our old office when there was a major news event going on, and I was trying to get reception,” he said.

Gosselin said he’s very pleased with the new space and the professional image it projects to people considering an investment in Lewiston-Auburn.

“We have one shot to impress clients,” said Gosselin. “That means a lot.”

The growth council and Lewiston Development Corp. are overseeing the leasing of the second and third floors, which have not been renovated as yet.

Gosselin said he’s pursuing three or four leads on tenants.

Meanwhile, downstairs, Morrison is still getting used to the new phone and intercom system – “new-fangled” technology that temporarily throws him for a loop. He expects after a couple of weeks, he’ll be up to speed.

But he still hasn’t figured out how to level the pitch in the hallway floor leading to his office.

“I can’t practice my golf here …”

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