NORWAY – The Board of Selectmen may hang on to ownership of the Opera House for a little longer than anticipated in order to take advantage of a $600,000 state grant that could be used to upgrade storefronts on the historic Main Street.

“I’m not in favor of the town owning it longer than necessary, but if we can compete for grant money, now is the time to talk about it,” Town Manager David Holt said.

The idea was generated from a request by the Western Maine Art Group for the town to be the funding agent for a $150,000 Community Development Block Grant. If successful, the money would be used for upgrades at their Lajos Matolcsy Arts Center on Main Street.

Holt told the Board of Selectmen last week that if they apply as a downtown area and not an individual, the amount of money available increases to $600,000 and would be available to upgrade downtown storefronts in addition to the gallery work.

“We need to see if it’s right for the town,” Holt said. The town has been the nonprofit funding agent for a number of Community Development Block Grants in the past that have been used to upgrade individual or multiple buildings downtown. The most recent grant secured funds for the Progress Center’s community kitchen.

The need to decide on the Opera House’s future is coming close as Chabot Construction company of Greene concludes its work to stabilize the back wall and secure the building for the winter. Last week, the final pieces of plywood were attached to the top half of the back wall where bulging bricks had been removed. The small building attached to the back wall was removed and the marquee in front of the building was taken down. Vinyl siding will temporarily cover the plywood.

Holt said he has asked the Norway Opera House Corp. to consider whether they want to be the owner of the Opera House once the town relinquishes ownership. “I think they would be a serious candidate,” he said.

Other choices might be a private owner.

The board has decided to ask the Norway Opera House Corp. to come to a future meeting to discuss their thoughts about owning the building. The deadline for the CDBG is late fall.

Last year, the town took the 1894 landmark by eminent domain from Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises of Londonderry, N.H. The action was due to an engineer’s report that declared the three-story brick edifice was a danger to the public because of damage from a partial roof collapse in September 2007.

The eminent domain case is set for Oxford County Superior Court in Paris in late March to determine how much the town must pay Mazzaglia for the building.

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