I recently read a letter from the ever-entertaining and insightful Buddy Doyle. In this piece about further stimulating Gardiner’s downtown revival, he dismissed the affordable renovation of Johnson Hall as a “myth.” I could not disagree more.

It is not only affordable, but the ability of a renovated theater to play a pivotal role in economic revitalization has been proven many times. Maine municipalities utilizing theaters for downtown revitalization include Camden, Rockland, Skowhegan, Waterville, Monmouth, Lewiston, Ellsworth, Portland, Bath and Stonington. Nationally, renovated theaters have been solely responsible for redevelopment of downtowns far more challenged than Gardiner, such as Newbury S.C., Colquitt Ga., and Schenectady N.Y.

These towns and cities have found their theater renovations both affordable and worthwhile. Economic development professionals are saying, “Development follows the arts.”

Hotels and restaurants are obvious needs for audience members, and new businesses are attracted to sites with lively cultural offerings for their executives and employees to enjoy.

Yes, the approximately $5.1 million tab is daunting. It is, however, less than the development costs of many theaters, and cheaper than some other economic development projects. We have made significant progress toward this goal by raising more than $450,000, which, among other things, paid for a Capital Campaign Feasibility Study. This study indicated a further $1 million in anticipated local support, $1.3 million in historic tax credits and $2 million in grant support, leaving a very reasonable $1 million opportunity for a lead gift or two that should light the fuse.

Though the economy has inhibited such an investor, we believe we are close.

Imagine what a thriving waterfront and a theater and conference center drawing 350 people to the capital region on a regular basis could do for local shops, restaurants, hotels, business parks and economy!

John Shaw, president

Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center


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