WATERVILLE — The need for downtown space and the reality of keeping the space operating are clashing at The Center on Main Street, where rents for some tenants are more than doubling and some worry that their place in the historic building is at risk.

The Aqua City Actors Theater, which had performed in the building since 1998, announced Monday it is shutting down because of the rent increase. On Tuesday, other nonprofit groups that rent space in the building said their rents will make it hard to survive, too.

Waterville Creates!, the group that manages the building, says rents have to increase to cover the building’s basic operating costs and it has been working with groups to find new space or to reduce the amount of space they use in the building.

“I just know what I’m looking at as far as the operating budget, and the numbers don’t work as far as the rents people were paying,” said Nate Rudy, Waterville Creates! executive director. “It’s basic math.

“We all care for that building. Unfortunately, we’re looking at what that means in a black-and-white, practical level,” he said.

But the changes are tough on some of the all-volunteer groups that rent space in the 68,000-square-foot building at 93 Main St., which holds a mix of retail, office space, meeting rooms and a theater. Tenants include WABI television, REM, the Waterville Opera House, and Maine Made and More.

“It’s going to be tough, really tough,” said Marc Roderick, treasurer of the Kennebec Club, a substance abuse recovery group that rents space in the basement of the four-story building.

The club is the only space in the Waterville area that offers a place for people recovering from addiction. Roderick put $3,000 of his own money into converting the space and building a meeting room and a small kitchen.

When it moved in, the club paid $300 a month for rent. Under the terms of a new lease with Waterville Creates! its rent has increased to $655 a month. The volunteer club’s main revenue comes from the $10 per month dues, but only 56 of its members can afford to pay, Roderick said.

“We’re hoping to stay here, but it doesn’t look good,” club president Tom LaPlante said Tuesday.

At the Woman’s Initiative, next door to the club, Martha Dempski said her rent has gone from $200 a month to more than $700 for a 3,000-square-foot basement space. Even though the new rent is reasonable, she can’t afford it.

She offers a free place for women to get information on health and social services and learn how to sew, knit and weave, using donated materials. She sells the crafts in the basement space.

The group was starting to show a profit, but the rent increase has wiped that out, Dempski said. She’s starting to look for another space, ideally at street level, where she can get foot traffic.

“We’re going to do what we always do — adapt, improve and overcome,” she said.

On the third floor, the rent at the Community Dental Center also is increasing.

Practice administrator Charlann Walker said the rent increase adds a burden but is workable, especially since it includes heat and electricity. With eight examination chairs, the practice can’t move out of the space anyway, she said.

The reaction to the rent increases has been frustrating for Rudy.

When Waterville Creates!, the arts consortium, took over as landlord at The Center last year, it took a hard look at its numbers and realized that the rents didn’t cover basic expenses such as heat.

Some tenants, such as REM and the Opera House, decided to reduce their footprint so they would pay less rent; and Rudy said he tried to work with others, such as the Aqua City Theater Group and the Kennebec Club, to find alternatives.

One of the suggestions for the theater group was to manage the space and bring in other groups, Rudy said. Instead, they pulled out entirely, he said.

“I’m frankly surprised and disappointed that they have elected to sort of blame the situation on us,” Rudy said.

Aside from the theater group, Rudy said he has specifically offered the Kennebec Club help in finding an alternative space, but now it seems that people are blaming Waterville Creates! for the changes.

Some tenants may have had “unreasonable and unrealistic” expectations for what the group, as a nonprofit itself, could shoulder, he said. Supporting the arts community is the group’s primary concern, not managing the building, he added.

“In the end, someone has to pay the bills,” Rudy said. “I’m kind of disappointed that everyone wants to point the finger at us when we just want to make the building work.”

In the REM offices on the first floor, co-director Faye Nicholson said the community-building group will shrink its footprint in the building by leaving the lobby and front window space. The group has had its offices in the Center for 20 years, but Nicholson, who is also a Waterville Creates! board member, is taking the situation in stride.

“Change is hard, even when it is good,” Nicholson said.

“Getting mad at Waterville Creates! because it is trying to live would be ridiculous and unfair,” she added.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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