NORWAY – The Norway Opera House Corp. will take ownership of the Norway Opera House within the next two weeks, setting the stage for a $1 million renovation of the first-floor, it was announced Monday night.

“It’s more than just a pie in the sky idea. It’s a happening place. There’s a buzz about it,” architect Denis Lachman, principal of Lachman Architects and Planners in Portland, told about 20 officials, residents and local business owners at a selectmen’s meeting at the town office.

The town took the historic three-story brick building on Main Street in 2010 by eminent domain because it was deemed structurally unsafe after a partial roof collapse in 2007.

Selectmen have decided to retain ownership of the clock tower from the roofline up because it contains the historic E. Howard timepiece and a 1894 Blake bell.

Lachman said the principals of the Norway Opera House Corp. and  Norway Savings Bank, who are working together to use historic tax credits to renovate the first-floor storefronts, met Monday. They reviewed paperwork that they hope will provide them with much of the money necessary to complete the first-floor renovation.

A $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future Grant received last fall and $440,000 in federal and state historic rehab tax credits are paying for the work. If the corporation can raise the remaining $180,000, it will have no debt.

The project is expected to go out to bid in May and the work be under way by summer,  Lachman said. It includes refurbishing the basement, upgrading wiring and plumbing, and bringing the basement and ground floor up to code. All historic aspects of the first floor’s interior, including the tin ceilings and built-in shelving, and the exterior, including the transoms which will be uncovered, will be retained.

The six storefronts are expected to remain essentially the same and made energy efficient. Each will have an updated bathroom, basement storage and other amenities.

It’s uncertain whether the attached former Woodman’s store will be retained in the overall project. The one-story log building is in rough shape, officials said, and space is needed for an elevator to eventually bring people to the second-floor stage, if that space is renovated in the future.

Town Manager David Holt said he hopes now that the construction stage is nearing, people interested in renting the storefronts or have idea about how they should be used will come forward.

The  1984 Opera House has remained vacant since the partial roof collapse in September 2007, and the town has since stabilized the back wall.

It has 17,618 square feet and sits on about a quarter of an acre between Main Street and Pennesseewassee Stream in the historic village district.

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