NORWAY — The state has released a $400,000 grant to restore the first-floor store fronts of the Opera House.

“We can finally pay off the temporary funding,” said Town Manager David Holt.

He expects the money from the Department of Economic and Community Development to be in Norway’s hands in about two to three weeks.

In June 2012, Gov. Paul LePage stunned towns that were awarded grants for revitalization projects when he delayed authorizing the $3.5 million in funds from the Communities for Maine’s Future bond until at least 2014. He called the move fiscally prudent. The money was part of a $25 million community development bond approved by Maine voters in 2010.

The news of the grant delay came two days after the town transferred the Norway Opera House deed to the Norway Opera House Corp. and shortly before the $1.1 million renovation project was to go out to bid. The loss of the $400,000 matching grant award came as a blow to scores of officials and residents who had worked for five years to save the 1894 downtown building after a partial roof collapse in 2007.

The Opera House Corp. and the Norway Savings Bank were financial partners on the project.


The competitive grant awards, part of a $25,000,000 bond initiative approved by Maine voters on June 8, 2010, provided $3.5 million for projects that restore and revitalize key buildings in the community, improve pedestrian access and safety, and projects that are catalysts for local jobs. The communities receiving awards were Bath, Belfast, Dover-Foxcroft, Eastport, Livermore Falls, Monmouth, Norway, Rockland, Skowhegan, Unity and Winthrop.

Although the governor eventually agreed to issue the $400,000 bond on or before June 21, 2015, the letter was not considered legally binding and did not require that a future governor follow LePage’s directive.

At the time, Holt said the town had already invested about $130,000 in architectural and engineering fees that would have been recovered through the Communities for Maine’s Future grant. That money was in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to save the building during the past five years, including a $200,000 donation by Selectman Bill Damon and his wife, Bea.

The town took a gamble and proceeded with the Opera House renovation by issuing a bond anticipation note to replace the loss of a $400,000 matching grant. But the town has also paid $6,863 in interest on that note.

“I was worried about the risk we took with this in an uncertain situation, but I’m glad it turned out OK,” Holt said Thursday.

Selectman Bruce Cook, a member of the Norway Opera House Corporation board of directors, said if the town had not helped by agreeing to temporarily fund the money, the project would have come to a stop.


“It’s really a good thing,” said Holt. “I had worries this would drag on even longer.”

As of June, all five storefronts in the Norway Opera House on Main Street were rehabilitated and rented.

Contractors began working at the Opera House in September 2012 as part of a $1 million renovation project by the Norway Opera House Corp. to restore the storefronts. A grand reopening was held in February.

The Opera House is the centerpiece of the downtown Norway National Historical District, which earned that designation in 1988. It was once the center of community activities, with a ballroom on the second floor and balcony on the third. The upper floors have been vacant for decades.

The building was closed after a partial roof collapse in September 2007 damaged all three floors. The town took ownership by eminent domain in 2011 due to its unsafe condition and turned it over to the Norway Opera House Corp.

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