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Local & State
Posted
Updated December 18, 2019
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More than 400 turn out for open house at The Elm in Waterville

Waterville businessman Bill Mitchell renovated the former American Legion Hall at 21 College Ave., where live music, celebrations, comedy performances and other events will be held.

WATERVILLE — Tanya Verzoni floated among the hundreds of guests Thursday at an open house for The Elm event center on College Avenue, marveling at the renovated space that once was the local American Legion post.

“I think this is a wonderful addition to our community,” Verzoni said. “We have been in need of a space that can accommodate even larger crowds. The ambiance is delightful, and I’m excited that this is in the heart of our city.”

Verzoni, director of financial education at New Dimensions Federal Credit Union, stood among more than 400 people who turned out for the event, which featured live music by Emmett Harrity Jazz Quartet, a performance by actress Marie Cormier and others.

The Elm owner Bill Mitchell and his wife, Vicki, greeted guests who dined on hors d’oeuvres from several area restaurants, sipped on drinks from the bar and sat or stood at tables, socializing with friends.

“I’m thrilled to open The Elm to the community, and I’m looking forward to many great events for all to enjoy,” Bill Mitchell said, standing among the crowd.

The event center at 21 College Ave. will host a variety of concerts, comedy and other performance-based shows, weddings, reunions, holiday parties, seminars and more.

Mitchell bought the building in 2017, which formerly housed the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5, which moved to Drummond Avenue.

He decided to transform the building into an event center after hearing more and more people cite the need for such a venue. While renovations were in progress this summer, Mitchell said he thought it would complement the work Colby College, the Alfond Foundation and others are doing to help revitalize the downtown for the city and region.

Mitchell, a lifelong Waterville resident and businessman who owns GHM Insurance Agency, is also part owner of the Proper Pig restaurant and owns other buildings and businesses in the city. He 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 more recently bought the building at the corner of Main and Common streets that formerly housed Larsen’s Jewelry.

Colby is building 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.

Meanwhile, “Satisfaction,” a Rolling Stones tribute band, is scheduled to perform Saturday at The Elm. The Fossils will open for the group.

Waterville resident Nancy Emery and her daughter, Angela Bouchard, said they have tickets for Saturday night and are excited about attending.

Emery and Bouchard sat at a table Thursday enjoying the food served up by restaurants that included Silver Street Tavern, Eric’s, Amici’s Cucina, The Last Unicorn, Portland Pie Co. and Cappza’s Pizza.

Emery said she attended a meeting Tuesday night at The Elm to discuss a $7.37 million BUILD grant the city received, and when she walked into the building, she was stunned. Emery had served as a ballot clerk when voting for all wards was held in the building.

“I thought it was beautiful — the lighting and everything,” she said. “And that stage — I like that stage.”

Inland Hospital President John Dalton was equally enamored of the changes.

“I think they’ve done a great job with the renovations,” he said. “We have needed event space in this city for a long time. It’s going to be really flexible.”

Looking around the room, Dalton was particularly struck by the fact that guests from all walks of life were enjoying the space, and he said that one of the great assets of the center will be its accessibility.

“I think the cross-section is astonishing,” he said.

City Councilor Phil Bofia, R-Ward 2, said he was pleasantly surprised when he walked into the building.

“It has like a high-end atmosphere in a small city,” he said. “The crowd here is incredible.”

Mary Carpinito, owner of Amici’s Cucina, was serving up a steaming, aromatic chicken piccatta to guests.

“I think it’s beautiful — it’s great,” she said of the venue. “We’ve got all the local restaurants working together. It’s so much fun. We’re definitely hoping to be involved in catering here.”

Catering will be outsourced to local restaurants, according to Mitchell, who said several weeks ago that he expected 10 or 12 part-time positions would be created as part of the business. Those jobs would be 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 recently, 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, and the American Legion on College Avenue held ongoing events back in the 1950s and ’60s. The Al Corey Band played there many times, and Mitchell’s father, the late Paul Mitchell, was a Navy veteran and he and his wife often attended dances and other events there.

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

The first section of the hall, as one enters the building from College Avenue, is a cozy, carpeted lounge that can seat 125 people, with new lighting and a full bar in the northeast corner. 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. If the two rooms are opened, the full space can accommodate about 350 for a sit-down event.

From a concert perspective, the center can accommodate about 650 people, with full seating for about 500, standing or general admission for another 150 people. The large parking lot next to the building has 160 spots.

Most of the building renovations were cosmetic. The ceiling in front of the stage was raised, the ceiling refreshed, walls painted and new lighting installed.

A state-of-the-art digital sound system and acoustical panels were installed, as well as a new LED lighting system and fire alarm system. The wood floor in the main room was refinished and bathrooms updated as part of renovations.

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

Speakers on Thursday, aside from Bill Mitchell, were to include Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer for the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Central Maine Growth Council, and Brian Clark, vice president of planning for Colby College.


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