WATERVILLE — Plans to transform The Center at 93 Main St. downtown into a $18 million-to-$20 million center for art and film have taken a giant leap forward with a “remarkable gift” to Colby College from art collector and longtime Colby benefactor Paul J. Schupf.

While Colby officials are not disclosing the gift amount, President David A. Greene said it launches the project into the next phase of developing a more detailed design process by Colby and Waterville Creates! to redevelop the building into a hub for visual arts, performing arts, arts education and film for people of all ages. Because of Schupf’s generous gift, collective efforts to bring new life to Main Street have moved from conceptual to tangible, Greene said.

Colby and Waterville Creates! officials said last year, when they announced plans for the art center, that they were trying to raise $18 million for the project.

“We now have over half the amount we need to construct this building,” Greene said Tuesday. “We hope to be in the ground in about a year. I think we have a path forward now to complete the fundraising and be able to move as quickly as possible.”

The center will be named the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in honor of Schupf and his generosity. Last month, Colby announced Schupf had committed $2 million for a Colby College Museum of Art contemporary art gallery in the future center, also to bear his name.

“The reaction to this has been really remarkable and I fully understand how impactful this is to the community, to Colby, to Colby students and to Mid-Maine and Maine in general,” Schupf, 82,  said Tuesday in a phone interview from his home in Hamilton, New York.

A preliminary design for the art center was created by an architectural team that includes Susan T. Rodriguez of New York City and OPAL of Belfast, Maine. The plan calls for the Schupf contemporary art gallery on the ground level; three film screening rooms that will bring the Maine Film Center, Railroad Square Cinema and Maine International Film Festival to downtown; Common Street Arts gallery; and multidisciplinary educational spaces, according to Colby officials.

Greene estimated it will take 12-18 months to construct the art center for an anticipated opening in 2021 and 2022.

The current 64,000-square-foot building will be trimmed to 32,000 square feet by removing part of the structure facing Castonguay Square. The square will be enlarged and redesigned. The side of the center facing the square will be all glass, and the historical nature of the facade facing Main Street will be preserved.

Greene said people from Waterville and beyond will be able to meet in the glass atrium overlooking the square, relax, have a cup of coffee, see a film, patronize the gallery and dine at restaurants downtown and shop, which will benefit businesses in the area. The center will be a destination spot, he said.

“I think of it as a fulcrum project. It starts so much in the center of town, and the success of the downtown will rely on the success of this building,” he said.

Schupf, a Colby Trustee Emeritus, recalled that he had lunch with Greene in Hamilton four years ago that was supposed to last an hour, but turned into three hours as they discussed art, Colby and Waterville. Greene asked him what he thought about having a museum presence in downtown, and Schupf said he was delighted with the idea, as it is important to him that art be accessible to everyone free of charge.

“I said, ‘terrific,’ and that would be absolutely perfect because some Waterville people are a little bit intimidated about going up to Mayflower Hill,” Schupf said in the phone interview. “Having a presence downtown would be extraordinary for the city of Waterville, and that led to a discussion about the art building.”

Paul J. Schupf, in a doorway of one of his 1830’s houses in Hamilton, New York, surrounded by pieces of his art collection, has made what Colby College President David Greene calls a “remarkable gift” that will enable the college and Waterville Creates! to start developing a more detailed design process to redevelop the building into a hub for visual arts, performing arts, arts education and film for people of all ages. “We now have over half the amount we need to construct this building,” Greene said Tuesday. Photo by Sandy Colhoun

Schupf  has donated numerous works to the Colby Museum over many years, including works by artists Alex Katz, Richard Serra, Edward Ruscha and Christo.

He was the lead donor for the Anthony-Mitchell-Schupf residence hall at Colby and, most recently, created the Paul J. Schupf Colby College/Memorial Sloan Kettering Internship and the Lorey/Schupf Handbell Choir.

Schupf praises Greene for his commitment to help revitalize Waterville’s downtown and is honored to be part of that, he said. At the lunch four years ago where they discussed the art center, Schupf was taken by Greene and his vision “in every way,” he said.

“He’s inspirational,” Schupf said. “He’s very smart. He is very wise and he is completely reliable, which isn’t always the case with college presidents.”

The downtown arts center will be a catalyst for the city’s cultural and economic expansion, according to Greene, under whose direction the college already has invested millions of dollars in the downtown. One of the projects was a $25 million mixed-use residential complex at 150 Main St., constructed with support from Bill and Joan Alfond, for whom the building is named. Some 200 Colby students, staff and faculty live in the building and are involved in a community engagement curriculum. The ground floor houses Camden National Bank and has a glassed-in meeting space used by city and nonprofit organizations. Retail space is being marketed on that floor. Colby also redeveloped the former Waterville Savings Bank across the street into offices on the upper floors, Portland Pie Co. on the ground floor and more space there for retail use.

Colby officials hope to break ground this summer on a 50-room, four-story hotel and restaurant on the lots of the former Levine’s clothing store and Camden National Bank, creating 65 construction jobs. The restaurant will feature seasonal, outdoor dining. Greene said that ideally the hotel would open in the fall of 2020.

He said the collaboration of the city and Colby on downtown revitalization, supported by people such as the Alfonds and Schupf, serves as an important bridge between Waterville and Colby, which has had a symbiotic relationship for many years.

“In many ways, Paul saw the same thing — bringing back the city and college that have been together more than 200 years, and it’s starting to break down the divide,” Greene said. “He saw the power of that, for the city to kind of grow and expand over time. For Paul, I think that’s what’s so powerful about this community. Paul came to Waterville and fell in love with it. That’s been true of others. It’s people like Paul, who have never lived here but fall in love with Waterville.”

 

A PASSION FOR COLBY, WATERVILLE

Schupf came to Waterville for the first time in 1985, not knowing anyone, never having set foot in the Colby Museum of Art, a total stranger to the city.

That changed quickly after he met Colby President William Cotter, who welcomed Schupf’s ideas about contemporary art — ideas that college presidents elsewhere had dismissed.

A native of Belgium, Schupf lived in Singapore before his family settled in New Rochelle, New York. He developed a love for art. He attended Colgate University, graduating in 1958, and later became a trustee and trustee emeritus and major donor to that school.

“I’m passionate about art, and in 1985 I had a very good collection of Alex Katz. Somebody suggested Colby and Bowdoin could do a joint summer exhibition entirely of my works of Alex Katz. The director of Bowdoin College museum had no interest in Alex Katz. (Former Colby Museum director) Hugh Gourley III was very interested in his work. I went up to Mayflower Hill for the first time, and I was very taken by Colby Museum. I did four major shows at Colgate Museum, and they had no interest in contemporary art at all. Until recently, nobody had interest in contemporary art.”

Colby College President David Greene, outside the Center in downtown Waterville on Monday, announced that the facility that will be transformed into a $18 million-to-$20 million art and film complex will be named the Paul J. Schupf Art Center after art collector and Colby benefactor Paul J. Schupf. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Schupf and Gourley worked closely together and Cotter was supportive of their efforts, Schupf said.

“We did show after show after show, and then I suggested I would donate a fund to name a wing which would have Alex Katz’s work, the first addition to the museum in quite some time. Bill was delightful to work with. He fully understood how the Colby Museum could be a jewel in the crown of the college.”

While other colleges and universities were “petrified of innovative and disruptive ideas,” Cotter loved them and encouraged Schupf in his efforts.

“At the time, Colby was a small, regional college, not the Colby of today at all,” Schupf said. “Bill was tremendously energetic and very smart. He had the brilliant idea of having a board of governors, which is difficult for a school in Maine to create. He worked at it. The board of governors is now, and has been, an extraordinary force for the museum — extraordinary. He also had Gourley report directly to him.”

Schupf donated other works of art to the museum, including those of Richard Serra and Edward Ruscha. He also gave naming gifts for the dormitory and other projects.

Waterville was a thriving city in the 1980s, according to Schupf, but over the years, mills closed and malls and big box stores were developed outside of the downtown. He visited Waterville — a city he had grown to love — three or four times a year and became friends with other Colby benefactors, including Peter and Paul Lunder and the Alfond family.

Then, four years ago, Schupf met Greene. They forged an extraordinary professional relationship and friendship. Schupf, who has stage four cancer, suggested he (Schupf) create a summer internship for Colby science and pre-med students involving Sloan-Kettering in New York City. Thus, the Paul J. Schupf Colby College/Sloan Kettering Internship was created. Schupf also created the Paul J. Schupf Scientific Computing Center and Lorey Schupf Handbell Choir, with support from Greene and Margaret McFadden, Colby’s provost and dean of faculty. He said Greene has a great team at Colby who work well together to get things done, including the current construction of an athletic center  on campus.

“I’m tremendously impressed by David’s commitment to Waterville,” Schupf said. “A lot of presidents are hand wavers. They say all the right things and don’t follow through. When it comes to actually taking major, calculated risks to make this stuff happen, it doesn’t happen. David is exactly the opposite.”

Greene, he said, is not afraid to take risks, a quality that is critical to generating results: “He took the tough road, and it’s going to end up a huge win for Waterville and a huge win for Colby.”

Because of his illness, Schupf is able to visit Waterville only twice a year now, but he never misses Colby’s “summer luncheon,” which he raves about. He recalled the luncheon started in 1985, with attendees sitting on blankets eating sandwiches, and grew into a fun, vibrant gathering with lobster as the main course.

Schupf is surrounded by art in his New York homes. A voracious reader, he consumes everything art-related.

“I have 25,000 art books,” he said. “I have two 1830s houses, side-by-side. They’re both full of art and full of art books. I read all those books. I really work at it. I find it unbearable that people have opinions about art and don’t know anything about it. If you happen to have a good eye and are reasonably intelligent and have access to books … it takes a long period of time to read books. I read them all. I enjoy it. I would rather do that than go to a dinner party.”

Schupf’s  contributions to the future downtown center will help strengthen the arts and cultural institutions that have enriched Waterville for decades and have a tremendous economic impact on the city, according to Shannon Haines, president and chief executive officer of Waterville Creates!.

“By bringing a diverse mix of arts programming together in one beautiful, modern facility, we will enliven downtown during the day and in the evening hours as well,” Haines said in a Colby press release. “We are so thankful for Mr. Schupf’s investment in Waterville’s future.”

Schupf himself said in the release that he finds it’s invigorating to see plans for Main Street taking shape, “particularly the efforts to create an arts and cultural renaissance downtown. “Colby’s unique culture and innovative spirit are making a lasting impact on Waterville, bringing new sources of economic growth to the region.”

Schupf’s generosity toward the Colby College Museum of Art has been transformational, according to Museum Director and Chief Curator Sharon Corwin.

“And now, he is doing for Waterville what he did for Colby — making possible an exceptional art experience for all,” Corwin said in the release. “For decades he has supported the arts at Colby, and now his vision extends to the region. He is a dear friend, and we are forever grateful to him.”

Schupf cited Greene, McFadden, Colby’s chief financial officer Doug Terp, and Dan Lugo in Colby’s advancement office as instrumental in the process, he said, and they make working with the college a pleasure.

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