MILBRIDGE, Maine — The former Milbridge Theatre building is in such bad shape that it will have to be torn down, but that doesn’t mean the end of plans to bring community theater and movies back to the site.
The theater closed after the December 2014 death of owner Dave Parsons. His brother, Richard, is willing to sell the property for $50,000 to Gateway: Milbridge, a group trying to bring back the Milbridge Theatre, according to Gateway board member Crystal Hitchings.
The land is assessed at $36,000 and the building is assessed at $45,300, according to a clerk at the Milbridge town office.
Initially plans included purchasing and refurbishing the building. But architects and contractors assisting Gateway: Milbridge have determined it would be more prudent to reconstruct a similar building on the site, said Hitchings, who also is regional planner and grant administrator for the Washington County Council of Governments and DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism.
Demolition and reconstruction are estimated to cost approximately $450,000, Hitchings and board member Paul Bennett said.
“The cost of [refurbishing] the building would be quite a bit more than building a new one,” Hitchings said.
She did not have an estimate for the cost of refurbishing the existing building, but she and Bennett said the building is not structurally sound. The roof is collapsing, leading to water damage and mold inside. Sills are deteriorating and rodents are living in the building.
Reconstructing the building will provide advantages, they added. For example, the original building has about 260 seats that are permanently attached to the floor. The Gateway: Milbridge board plans to create a portable stage and buy portable seating. This way, the room will not only serve the public for theater and concert performances but also can be used as an event center or ballroom, they said.
“Now we’re opening this theater to a multi-use venue,” Bennett said.
“It’s really starting to become a community center,” Hitchings said.
Although the group plans to construct a new building, it also seeks to keep the look of the original theater.
“The outside of the theater would look like it does now,” Bennett said. “The folks in the local community would like to keep that same look.”
The original ticket booth and counters will be used in the lobby of the new building. Restrooms, hallways and doorways will be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Bennett said.
The first step is for the group to purchase the building. In order to do so, the board estimates it needs to raise another $20,000 to be added to the almost $10,000 already raised. This would cover half of the $60,000 Hitchings estimates will be needed for the purchase price and closing costs.
Hitchings said she has applied for grants but had not had success because most grant providers want to see a bigger buy-in from the community. She hopes that by raising another $20,000, the group can find a matching grant, she said.
Hitchings said the group has launched two websites to help kick-start fundraising activities. One is the Gateway: Milbridge site at Gatewaymilbridge.com, which was launched early last summer. The group is working on three projects in all, one of which is the Milbridge Theatre, and information is provided on each one. The second website, MilbridgeTheatre.org, is dedicated specifically to the Milbridge Theatre project and was launched just “a couple weeks ago,” she said.
“Fundraising has definitely been challenging. But we’re really starting to get [the] word out,” Hitchings said. “Once we own the building, there’s a lot of programs out there [to provide funding].”
Hitchings said the group hopes to purchase the theater by June and demolish the existing building by the end of this year. The group estimates construction of the new building would begin in 2017, and reopen in 2018.