NORWAY – The town has three days before it has to return a large state grant to rehabilitate the vacant Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street, unless a buyer is found.

Marcy Boughter, who has been the head of the rehabilitation project for the Growth Council of Oxford Hills, said three developers have made viable offers to buy the 112-year-old building. The council’s board is reviewing the proposals, she said, and has met with all three parties.

Norway developer Sam Small is one of them. The other two parties have not been identified.

What remains of the $500,000 matching grant from the Maine Municipal Investment Trust Fund would be passed on to the new owner to help fix up the dilapidated structure if deal can be sealed by the end of the week.

The grant helped attract investors to the project because the building is in bad shape. Boughter has said the council is hoping to recoup its investment of about $130,000 in the building. Already about $150,000 of that grant has been spent, leaving about $350,000 for a new buyer’s use, she said.

Since learning earlier this month of the Sept. 30 deadline for a redevelopment plan, town officials and Boughter have scrambled to find an investor for the building.

Located at 201 Main St. in the Downtown Historic District next to the Opera House, the three-story brick hall was built in 1894 with an addition in 1911. The first floor was home to The Little Jungle Pet Store. The second floor housed the district courthouse and law offices, while the third floor was reserved for members of the Odd Fellows.

Then Growth Council Executive Director Brett Doney said last month that the cost of redeveloping the building would be more than $1 million.

The council bought the building for $68,000 in 2002 from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Lodge No. 16, and then received a half-million dollar matching MITF grant to get the building ready for new occupants.

But after beginning the project and gutting the first floor, the council’s board of directors voted this summer to abandon the project because it wanted to focus on regional projects. The council’s mission is to spur economic development in the Oxford Hills.

Norway Town Manager David Holt, up until last week a member of the council board, said, too, that there wasn’t enough money to continue working on the building.

The Norway Board of Selectmen and Holt have criticized the way the Growth Council communicated with the town about the project and its feasibility. Until May, spokespeople for the organization, including former executive director Brett Doney and Boughter, were reassuring town officials that work was moving ahead on the building.

Meanwhile, the owners of Maine Made & More, a gift shop nearby on Main Street, have said they were interested in possibly moving into the bottom floor of the Odd Fellows Hall, depending on the hall’s future. George Gordon said, too, that he had discussed tenancy plans with Small, one of the interested buyers.

But Gordon, who co-owns the Maine Made & More business with his wife, Paula, said he did not believe that the potential developer’s business needs matched his.

“We have a pretty strict guideline that we go by in terms of what percentage of our sale is in rent,” Gordon said Tuesday. “In order for him to make the project work and to not lose money on the project, the rent he needed for the space exceeded our guideline.”

Small said he submitted a bid Monday to the Growth Council and was waiting to hear back from the board. “I already have a substantial investment in downtown Norway, and I am a local person in Oxford Hills and candidly, I would like to see the project wind up with a local owner,” Small said Tuesday.

Small’s business, Cobble View Properties Inc., has an office on Main Street in Norway. He owns seven buildings and two vacant lots in the downtown, and is closing on two more properties there, he said.

Gordon said he would be looking for another space in Norway or the Oxford Hills for his shop. He needs to vacate the J.J. Newberry building on Main Street by Jan. 15 to make room for Norway Savings Bank, which is moving three of its departments into the building and the former Aubuchon Hardware building nearby.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.