AUBURN – The future of the Great Falls Performing Arts Center will be the starting point Monday night for a discussion about Auburn’s downtown.

“There’s so much we could do downtown, and I see Great Falls right as the middle ground in all of it,” City Manager Glenn Aho said Friday. “We have a beautiful downtown now, and it’s very small but very popular. And we could do more with it.”

The performing arts center is part of the council’s workshop agenda. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in Auburn Hall.

Councilors split earlier this month on most issues concerning the future of the building. Councilor Ron Potvin urged councilors to support a full-time Great Falls Performing Arts Center in Auburn, while Councilor Ray Berube favored selling the building to Community Concepts to develop it as housing. Councilor Mike Farrell said he wanted to put the matter on the November ballot and let voters decide.

“I think councilors focused more on perceived costs and possible timelines for developing this,” Aho said. “I don’t want that to happen this week.”

Aho said he imagines Auburn’s downtown spreading from Court Street south through New Auburn.

“We can make the entire area a destination for people,” Aho said. “We could have businesses for people on both ends, but I see the Great Falls center right in the middle.”

Councilors have two plans before them for the 53,000-square-foot building that’s home to the Community Little Theatre group and to classrooms for arts groups, musicians and charities.

Under the plan favored by members of the theater group, the city would help create a group to manage the facility. With city support, that group would fix safety and health issues right away and begin fundraising efforts. The group would divide the building’s space more efficiently, increase rents and make itself self-sustaining within three years.

Community Concepts Inc., a social service agency and developer, proposed a different plan. The group would take over the building from the city and develop half of it for affordable housing. Its work would be paid with tax credits and federal grants from the Housing and Urban Development that Auburn receives. Community Concepts would leave the theater area untouched, letting the city and theater group to figure out the uses for that building.

“But before we move forward on anything, we need an actual idea of what we want to happen,” Aho said. “That’s the discussion we want to have.”

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