The Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center at 280 Water St. in downtown Gardiner, photographed in July 2021. Gardiner officials agreed Wednesday to contribute an additional $150,000 for renovations to the historic opera house after inflation drove up construction costs. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — Gardiner city officials have agreed to double their financial commitment to the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center renovation project.

With little fanfare, the Gardiner City Council agreed Wednesday to use $150,000 from revenue from the Downtown Tax Increment Finance district for the historic opera house.

That decision moves Johnson Hall closer to a fundraising goal that has increased over the past year — driven upward by inflation and supply chain and labor issues — to almost $8 million. The initial goal in 2016 was $4.3 million.

Even so, Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, said as the target has moved, fundraising has kept pace. He said he has continued to seek out and apply for grants and other funding to raise the final $1 million needed to reopen the building’s 400-seat theater that has been unused for decades.

Because of volatility in the construction sector, locking in prices has been difficult, but Miclon said construction contracts are expected to be signed this week, which will determine the cost of the project. Ordering for project components is already underway to lock in prices.

“In early June, we’ll be good to go,” Miclon said.


The project, which is to also add an elevator, an expanded lobby and concession area and green rooms, has been in the works for years.

Once the project is done, Miclon said an economic impact study completed for Johnson Hall shows the theater is expected to bring $500,000 a year into downtown Gardiner, as people stop for dinner, drinks or to shop before or after performances.

Speaking in support of the $150,000 contribution at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Thom Harnett, a former Gardiner mayor and the city’s current state representative, said he has lived in Gardiner for 30 years and has been watching the progress at Johnson Hall.

“Seeing how much has been done and how close we are to the dream we’ve all had for a fully restored Johnson Hall, with a theater with 400 seats and what that means for our community just in terms of pure economic development,” he said, “this is the time to make certain we reach our goal, that we get this cross the finish line and that we achieve what we know will be a wonderful next chapter in the city of Gardiner.”

Gardiner officials had already pledged $150,000 from the city’s undesignated fund balance in support of the project.

The latest donation from the city will be matched through the current Punch List Challenge, funded with an anonymous $500,000 match challenge donation announced in January.

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