GARDINER — A proposal to improve access to the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center might lead to reconstruction of a stretch of sidewalk on Mechanic Street as well.

Officials from the historic theater have approached the Gardiner City Council with an invitation to collaborate on a grant request to be made to the Northern Border Regional Commission for infrastructure work that supports economic development. Specificially, theater officials are working to improve access, particularly access for the handicapped, to the Mechanic Street entrance of the theater, and make improvements to the sidewalk outside it in that same area.

“What we’re seeking tonight is essentially a placeholder,” said Logan Johnston, co-chairman of Johnson Hall’s capital campaign. “The way this grant works is there’s a preliminary application that’s due at the end of next week, which basically creates a pool so that the regional commission can look at how much money would be needed throughout the region, and we would be specifically engaged in the Maine component of that.”

The actual grant would be written and due in May, Johnston said. As the project details are developed more fully, in conjunction with the city Public Works Department, Johnson Hall’s architects and engineers and others, the grant that results would be more specific and would come back before councilors.

“We really want the city’s collaboration, because this is an access thing that will help everyone in the city of Gardiner get in and out of our building,” Johnston said. “Our intention here is that there would be no new tax dollars. Our thinking is that somewhere down the road this would be part of Tony’s work plan and could be accomplished in that way,” he said, referring to Tony LaPlante, Gardiner’s public works director.

He said the maximum grant amount is $500,000 and Johnson Hall would be applying for less than $300,000 for work inside the building.

But District 1 City Councilor Terry Berry asked whether the amount could be increased to take care of a longer stretch of sidewalk along Mechanic Street.

“Should that be a part of the grant from the corner of Church Street up through some point?” he said, adding later, “I’m just saying, if you can get 80 percent of  something for nothing, I am always in favor of that.”

To include that in the grant, Johnston said, city officials would have to provide an estimate soon.

In early discussions about collaborating, the sidewalk portion of the project was estimated to cost around $17,500, but that would be considered only a part of the local match.

“Because we’re collaborating, all we’re doing is asking for $300,000,” Johnston said, “so the match between the city and Johnson Hall has to (be) $60,000.”

Michael Miclon, Johnson Hall’s artistic executive director, said fundraising is underway and that money can be used for the local match.

“Our portion of this is accessibility,” Miclon said.. “It includes our elevator, our lift from the theater floor to the stage for whoever needs that, and also load-in. But also that we have access Mechanic Street from the theater itself and to our second-floor lobby. Theoretically, there would be a lot of foot traffic along the back side that isn’t there now.”

“What would it take to add the whole length of Mechanic Street and say people will be coming from far and wide?” Mayor Patricia Hart said.

“We just need to know the numbers,” Miclon said, “and what the extent would be.”

Johnston said the letter of intent doesn’t need to be highly detailed; that information would be in the grant. The letter could describe a $500,000 project that would include more sidewalk.

Councilors endorsed the move with a unanimous vote in favor of it.

Theater officials continue to raise funds to reach the $4.9 million needed to renovate the upper theater, which has a capacity of about 400.

Johnson Hall dates back to 1864, when hotel owner Benjamin Johnson converted his livery stable into a performance hall. By 1888, the space had been transformed into the Opera House, which drew traveling theater performances and, later, movies.

Currently, Johnson Hall hosts more than 50 shows a season in the Studio Theater on the ground floor, which can accommodate about 100 people. In addition, Johnson Hall, with the support of corporate sponsors, also puts on the free summer concert series Fridays in Waterfront Park.

 

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

 

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