WATERVILLE — A local businessman plans to transform the former American Legion hall building at 21 College Ave. into an events center that would host concerts, comedy and other performance-based shows, as well as parties and seminars.

The business, to be called The Elm, is scheduled to open Sept. 7.

“There’s been a lot of talk around town about the need for an event center, so after a lot of thought and due diligence, I decided to launch the project,” owner Bill Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be a really great addition to the downtown and all of the great work that Colby College, the Alfond Foundation and others are doing to revitalize the downtown for our city and the whole area.”

Mitchell is a lifelong Waterville resident and businessman who owns GHM Insurance Agency, is part owner of the Proper Pig restaurant and owns other buildings and businesses in the city. Mitchell was part of a group of business and city leaders who met with Colby President David Greene a few years ago to plan for downtown revitalization.

Mitchell purchased and renovated two historic buildings on Common Street in the heart of downtown even as Colby worked on plans nearby to build a $25.5 million mixed-use residential complex on Main Street that during the academic year houses 200 students, faculty and staff. He has also renovated the former Waterville Savings Bank building on Main Street.

Colby is about to break ground on a $26 million hotel just around the corner and is raising funds with Waterville Creates! to develop an $18 million to $20 million center for art and film, also on Main Street.

Mitchell bought the former Legion hall building in 2017 while the legion organization, Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5, moved to Drummond Avenue.

Mitchell, speaking recently to property manager Jay Conway in the 24,000-square-foot former American Legion Hall where inside renovations started about a month ago, said he plans to offer a wide range of events at the center that fall into broad categories: concerts and comedy-themed performance events, wedding receptions, reunions, holiday parties, corporate events and educational seminars.

He said he has not begun to promote or advertise the venue and already two concerts are booked, for tribute bands.

“Satisfaction,” a Rolling Stones tribute band, and “KISS Army,” a tribute band for the classic rock band KISS, are scheduled to perform at the venue on Nov. 14. Mitchell said a whole range of genres will be offered as the center’s calendar evolves.

“We’re already looking at a number of other potential concerts, many, specifically, in 2020 — 20 concerts over the course of the year,” Mitchell said.

Bill Mitchell, owner of the former American Legion building on College Avenue in Waterville, plans to renovate the large space into an event center called The Elm. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

In addition to hosting “higher-end-type performers,” some mid-range bands from throughout the Northeast also will be sought, as well as a strong mix of local bands, according to Mitchell. He said he envisions having events such as Battle of the Bands, Dueling Pianos and dinner dances.

Catering for the venue will be outsourced to local restaurants. Mitchell estimated that 10 or 12 part-time positions will be created as part of the business, with those jobs related to catering, crowd control, concessions, general customer service, booking events, showing the space and responding to inquiries.

Mitchell has a personal connection to the building, which was built in the 1950s. After World War II, he said, American Legions were built all over the country and were very popular with the veterans community and even non-veterans.

“Most people were veterans or connected to veterans,” he said. “This particular American Legion held ongoing events back in the 1950s and ’60s. The Al Corey Band played here many times. My father was a Navy veteran, and my mother and father came here often to different dinner dances and events. It’s exciting to bring that energy back to this grand space.”

Mitchell said he spoke with his parents about possibly bringing back such events to the former Legion hall while his father, Paul Mitchell, was alive. Paul Mitchell also was a businessman who owned GHM with Bill, was a member of the Planning Board, active in community activities and headed up a downtown urban renewal efforts many years ago.

The floor plan at The Elm will offer three different options for hosting events.

The first section of the hall, as one enters the building from College Avenue, is being developed into a cozy, carpeted lounge that can seat 125 people, with new lighting and a full bar in the northeast corner, according to Mitchell. It may be open to, or closed off from, the larger room with a stage that may accommodate about 250 people for a sit-down dinner, he said. If the two rooms are opened, the full space can accommodate about 350 for a sit-down event, he said.

“From a concert perspective, we can accommodate about 650 people, with full seating for about 500, standing or general admission for another 150 people,” he said inside the building. “It’s a pretty cool space, and as you can see, we’re giving it a full interior makeover. It’s a great building. The (Legion) did an awesome job in designing it and building it, and I want to bring it back to the point where it’s just a great space to hold events and bring a new experience into the city of Waterville.”

The large parking lot next to the building has 160 stalls, according to Mitchell.

He said most of the building renovations are cosmetic. The ceiling in front of the stage has been raised, which Mitchell said enhances it. The ceiling is being refreshed, walls painted and new lighting is being installed, he said.

“We’re installing a state-of-the-art digital sound system, building acoustical panels, installing a new LED lighting system and fire alarm system, refreshing the bathrooms,” he said. “And we’ll be refinishing the floor with a section of it to be carpeted.”

The kick-off event for The Elm, to be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 7, will be the “Mind, Body and Spirit Festival,” to include workshops on Reiki massage, yoga, reflexology, past life readings, holistic and naturopathic health, hypnotherapy, energy healing, organic skin care, aromatherapy, jewelry and more. Admission is $5 and includes some workshops.

The Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees is also scheduled to be held there from Nov. 22-24 and Nov. 29-Dec. 3.

“It’s very exciting,” Mitchell said. “I think it’s going to be a great addition to downtown Waterville, very convenient location, complementing the great work that Colby and the Alfond Foundation and Bill & Joan Alfond are doing to revitalize our city, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”


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