AUGUSTA — Downtown advocates want people who can see beyond the gaping hole in the floor, the tree growing out an exterior wall and years of neglect, to envision a revitalized Colonial Theater that gives people a reason to come downtown for a night out.
They hope to draw people downtown Thursday for a discussion about what the future could hold for the 101-year old dilapidated, much-discussed, but long-vacant former movie theater.
“If you have a thought about the future use of the Colonial Theater, come share it,” said Steve Pecukonis, downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance.
The discussion session is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the first-floor gallery at the University of Maine at Augusta’s Gannett Building, 331 Water St.
The discussion will be the latest focused on revitalizing the 1913 theater at 139 Water St., which has a stage for live entertainment but for many years was used as a movie theater, until it closed and the seats were removed in 1969.
It has been vacant for many years, used only for storage in the four-plus decades it’s been closed, and a leaky roof allowed water into the building, which rotted some of the wood. A portion of the floor has collapsed, and a small tree grows out of a gap between bricks on the north exterior wall.
Four years ago some city councilors, concerned the building was becoming a dangerous eyesore, suggested it may have to be torn down. They urged the local nonprofit organization that owns it, Colonial Theater Inc., to take action to refurbish the structure.
Though Colonial Theater Inc. was able to raise some money to make some improvements to the building, including roof repairs, it is still vacant and deteriorating.
Richard Parkhurst, who has redeveloped other Water Street buildings into luxury loft-style apartments, has now offered to act as construction manager to oversee renovations to bring the theater back.
Parkhurst, an owner of Oakes and Parkhurst Glass in Manchester, said the Colonial Theater could provide something missing in Augusta, a cultural center that could bring people downtown.
In 2010, renovation costs were estimated at $2.5 million to $4.8 million. Parkhurst has said he has been through the building and that estimate sounds high.
Pecukonis said Thursday’s session will include discussion of the building’s past, present and future. Mostly, he wants to hear about the future, and “what people would like to see done with that space, if we are able to renovate it.”
Larry Fleury, president of the nonprofit organization that owns the theater, said in a letter inviting people to attend the session that it represents “the beginning stages of a new and serious effort to revitalize our grand old theater in downtown Augusta.”
“We believe that the revitalization of the Colonial Theater will help expand opportunities for arts and culture in our community and continue to propel the rebirth of the downtown that is currently taking place,” Fleury said. “We need your help in making this happen by assisting us in determining the desired future uses of this historic property.”
Keith Edwards – firstname.lastname@example.org