NORWAY – More than half of a $500,000 state grant meant for the rehabilitation of the Odd Fellows Hall on Main Street has been lost.

The deadline ran out for the town, the Growth Council of Oxford Hills, or the new owners to claim what remained of the grant. During the last several weeks, the council has been in the final stages of signing over the hall to a young couple, who wanted to secure the grant to fix up the 112-year-old dilapidated building.

But in the final hours, the new owners could not pull together the documentation needed to prove they had enough money to match the state grant before the new year. The funding comes from the Municipal Investment Trust Fund.

“The state was really requiring they show they could match the money, they wanted to know the match was there,” Marcy Boughter of the Growth Council said. “Because of the short span, we couldn’t get it in time.”

The loss of the grant will not affect the sale, Boughter said. She said the couple will reveal their identifies next week.

The couple bought the three-story empty brick building for $150,000 from the Growth Council last month, beating out four other applicants for the building.

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

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 it ready for tenants.

Over the years, it drew down some of the funds, with Norway selectmen’s authorization, leaving roughly $268,000 unspent when the hall was sold. This amount has now been relinquished back to the state.

The council gutted the first floor, but last summer abandoned the project because it was going to take more than $1 million, and it wanted to focus on regional projects. The council’s mission is to spur economic development in the Oxford Hills.

Boughter said the new owners want to open a country store on the bottom floor, somewhat like Zeb’s General Store in North Conway.

“It will be an old-fashioned store, with honey sticks and knick-knacks,” Boughter said. The upper stories will be converted into offices.

“One of the conditions of the grant in the first place which was awarded three years ago is that our money had to be matched dollar for dollar,” Orman Whitcomb of the Department of Economic and Community Development said. “The only way we could release funds is if they have a firm committed match for it.”

He said the department is looking for other project applications that can use the money in time and provide a match.

Boughter said there was some disappointment about losing the money, but the new owners are not discouraged.

“The stars were not aligned,” she said.


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