AUGUSTA — The only bid to buy the Gannett House from the state came from the former publishing magnate Gannett family, which plans to turn the vacant former family home into an interactive museum focusing on the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects.

The state-owned building most recently housed the State Planning Office, but it has been vacant since that agency moved out in 2010. The state sought bids to buy the property with a restriction that it be used as a museum following legislation in 2013 authorizing its sale for that use. Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, sponsored the legislation after speaking with members of the Gannett family, who expressed a desire to turn the building into a museum championing the First Amendment, which guarantees Americans freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government.

Family members, bidding as the Gannet House Project, were the only bidders to submit a proposal to buy the property by Thursday’s deadline, according to David Heidrich, a spokesman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services. That brings the family group’s desire to build the museum that much closer to reality.

“That’s exciting news,” said Genie Gannett, granddaughter of Guy Gannett. “We’re of course anxious to get going.”

Neither the state nor Gannett disclosed the amount of the bid.

The yellow and brown Mediterranean Revival building was built in 1911 by William H. Gannett as a wedding gift to his son, Guy.


William Gannett was born in Augusta and was a successful entrepreneur who founded Comfort magazine, which reached a circulation of more than 1 million copies. Later the Guy Gannett Publishing Co. was established and grew to include the Morning Sentinel, Portland Press Herald, Portland Sunday Telegram, Portland Evening Express and Daily Kennebec Journal, as well as WGME television and WGAN radio. The family sold the company in 1998.

Guy Gannett and his family lived in the home at 184 State St. for about 10 years before moving to Portland. The home was acquired by the state in 1973 and turned into office space.

Genie Gannett, of Readfield and Florida, said the family hopes to restore the building and turn it into an interactive museum where children and adults can learn about the First Amendment and its role as a guardian of democracy.

“We were hoping to be the successful bidder, but we really didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I think we submitted a very complete bid, with a lot of information about what we’ve been doing. We’ll await (the state’s) response and certainly expect to have some negotiation, just like you would with any real estate transaction. We’re ready to go. We have a strategic plan in place and know our next step is, after a successful purchase, choosing a master planning firm who’ll help us with the restoration and exhibit design.”

Gannett said organizers have looked at other museums and spoken with leaders of the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as they plan the interactive exhibits they’d like to create at the Gannett House building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Heidrich said the state’s next step will be to review the bid to ensure it complies with the requirements of the request for bids. He said the decision about whether to accept the bid should come within the next two weeks. Should the bid be accepted, the next step would be the state and Gannett House Project negotiating a purchase-and-sale agreement. The final sale price might not be either the appraised value of the home or the bid amount submitted by the Gannett House Project, which Gannett declined to reveal Thursday.


“The state can negotiate the sale price of the Gannett House property with the winning bidder, just as one might negotiate the sale price of a home with a potential buyer,” Heidrich said.

The property was appraised this year by Dwyer Associates, of Augusta, at $378,000. However, that appraisal of the 5,000-square-foot building was based on the property’s market value without restrictions on its use.

Katz and others have said the museum could be an additional attraction to draw people to Augusta.

Gannett said the project would be funded by the family and foundations.

Gannett said exhibits would include looks at the past, present and future of journalism and free speech, including the digital age. She said the group also envisions the building hosting speakers, educational events and visits from schoolchildren from across the state. Exhibits and presentations probably would include discussions of banned books. She said educational exhibits and presentations also could include Maine connections such as those about Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a Colby College graduate, Albion native and journalist who condemned slavery before he was killed by a pro-slavery mob during an attack on his press in 1837.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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