The expansive third-floor opera house at Johnson Hall in downtown Gardiner will see something Saturday that hasn’t happened there for three decades: a show.

Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center is holding a series of musical performances Saturday evening to celebrate the building’s 150th anniversary and to get people excited about the organization’s future, specifically its plan to renovate and open the second and third floors in five years.

“Our goal is to really get people up there to remind them that the space is there and give them a sense of what the place will be when it holds 400 people,” said Mike Miclon, executive director of the organization.

The third floor theater was last used in the early 1980s by a theater group, Miclon said. It’s been unused since the group of community members formed Johnson Hall Inc. in 1987 to purchase and eventually renovate the building. The nonprofit organization renovated the first floor, where shows are held now, but the goal has always been to open the second and third floors.

Miclon, who joined the Johnson Hall group last year, said the organization is committed to opening the upper floors by September 2019.

“We feel very confident that that is going to happen,” he said.


The celebration Saturday will include vaudeville performances inside and outside the theater. Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations will play four shows in the third floor theater at 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Only 50 tickets are available for each show because the organization can’t allow more people on the upper floor at the same time.

Miclon said people are encouraged to show up at their showtimes early to get tours of the upper floors before the shows.

Since Miclon took over the organization last year, he has greatly expanded the number of shows held on the first floor each season and helped restart the process of renovating the opera hall. Over the last year, the organization has cleared out debris and anything not historically or structurally significant from the upper floors.

There have been several attempts over the years to complete the renovation, but several obstacles, including the 2008 recession, derailed previous attempts.

Miclon said the group has a new plan from an architect, and it’s less ambitious than a previous plan that called for an expansion of the third floor out the side of the building. He said the organization will decide in the next few months what type of renovation to do: one following historic standards to make the project eligible for federal historic tax credits or a renovation without the guidelines.

Miclon said he thinks they’ll likely go the historic renovation route, which would allow them to raise money with the tax credits and give the theater a better level of credibility going forward. The group is seeking a grant through the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s Certified Local Governments Program to get started.


Next, a forensic study of the theater would need to be done through the National Park Service’s Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program. After the renovation plan is approved by the park service, the group would have a better idea of how much would need to be raised in a capital campaign, Miclon said.

The last plan in 2011 pegged the project cost at more than $5 million, but Miclon said the group will likely need to raise closer to $3 million.

Miclon expects the organization will be ready to launch the capital campaign within a year. He said it will be done in phases to allow for parts of the project to be completed over time.

Along with Miclon’s focus on growing the schedule at the downstairs theater, he has tried to enhance Johnson Hall’s connection to the community. The organization held free concerts and outdoor movie showings at the Waterfront Park over the summer. Johnson Hall also lowered the youth ticket price for most shows from $12 to $5 and plans to do free shows for local schools.

“We’re trying to remind our community that we want to be an integrated part of the community,” Miclon said. “We want our community to want to come to Johnson Hall, and we want to be able to bring the best of Johnson Hall to them.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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