AUGUSTA — City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to turn over $30,000 to help the nonprofit group trying to restore the Colonial Theatre remove environmentally hazardous coal ash and asbestos from the downtown theater’s basement.

However, councilors, after a tie vote on a proposed amendment decided by Mayor David Rollins’ tie-breaking vote, declined a request from the same group to speed up the release of the remaining $270,000 of money a previous council vote committed to the project.

Councilors who voted not to release the additional money said they want to see more money raised privately, to be assured the project will be completed, before committing the city to the rest of the payments.

“I don’t have a problem with the $30,000 to help this project go forward, but I do have concerns with the rest of the money,” Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott said. “I can’t disburse the rest of these funds until I see some more (donors) come forward.”

Elliott said he’d like to see $1 million or $2 million in private fundraising before he’d want to put more city money into the project.

Leaders of efforts to restore and reopen the riverside downtown former movie theater asked councilors last week to release $300,000 in city money committed to the project sooner than city officials previously had agreed to do. That request included asking that the city provide $30,000 as soon as possible to help clean up a combination of coal ash and asbestos in the building’s basement, the presence of which is preventing the planned and fully funded $100,000 repair of the floor of the theater.


In October 2016 the council voted to commit the city to provide $300,000 to the restoration of the theater, but not until the project is nearing completion.

The original motion proposed Thursday was to appropriate $30,000 now for the environmental work, and that $70,000 be appropriated toward the cost of bid-ready construction plans and specifications when they’re ready, and that the remaining $200,000 in city money would be turned over upon “substantial completion of the construction of said project.”

That was amended on a motion by At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien to limit the payment to $30,000 now, with the rest of the $300,000 to be withheld until, as stated in the previous council order, until the project is substantially complete.

O’Brien said he and other councilors support the Colonial Theatre project, but he thinks the council was wise when it voted last year to withhold payment of the full $300,000 until the project is substantially complete.

Rollins expressed concern that more private donors haven’t stepped forward yet to make more major contributions to the project. However, he said theater supporters can come back to the council to seek additional money, if and when they need it.

Councilors who voted against O’Brien’s amendment to remove the $70,000 accelerated payment said the nonprofit group working on the theater project has shown an ability to raise money in a short period of time, it has made improvements to the building including a new roof, and it is essential for the revitalization of the downtown to keep the theater project moving forward toward completion as a home for arts and culture in Augusta.


“They have the momentum right now, and I’d hate to see it held back at this point, when the funds are available to move forward,” said Marci Alexander, an at-large councilor.

She said the idea of putting city money in to help the project is similar, conceptually, to the city, years ago, building the Augusta Civic Center to draw business and people to the city.

Tobias Parkhurst, chairman of the theater’s board of directors, who is also a downtown business and building owner, and Andrew Silsby, a theater board member and president of Kennebec Savings Bank, approached councilors last week to ask that $30,000 of the city money be given to the theater now. They said they expect to be able to raise the other $30,000 to cover the anticipated $60,000 cost of the environmental cleanup, which is needed avoid exposing workers fixing the floor to the asbestos in the basement.

The nonprofit group seeking to restore and reopen the downtown Augusta theater received a $100,000 donation from Kennebec Savings Bank in August, but that funding is designated specifically to fix the theater’s floor.

About $750,000 has been raised for the project so far, but Parkhurst said that money either already has been spent on repairs, such as the replacement of the roof, or is committed to other aspects of it. He said it is unusual for work to be taking place on a project while money still is being raised for it.

No theater representatives attended Thursday’s meeting, which Elliott said was frustrating because councilors thus couldn’t ask them any questions.


Organizers hope to raise about $8.5 million for the project, with about $6 million of that for construction. About $2.2 million of the funding was expected to come from state and federal historic preservation tax credits.

The $300,000 in city money was left over from the Lithgow Public Library renovation and expansion, and is in an assigned reserve account for the Colonial Theatre project.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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