MILBRIDGE, Maine — The Milbridge Theatre project has received a number of economic boosts recently.
Crystal Hitchings, a board member for Gateway: Milbridge, the group that plans to rebuild and revive the theater, announced Wednesday that the Maine Community Foundation awarded the group $10,000 toward the cost of a business plan.
“Getting our first grant is a huge hurdle that required a preliminary commitment from many individuals,” Hitchings said. “Starting out with a sound business plan puts us in a much more stable place of knowing what we are getting into, and knowing exactly how to design and program the theater for success.”
The grant will cover most of the $13,000 cost of the business plan, she said. The remaining $3,000 will be covered by Penny Guisinger of Inkslinger Writing Services in Trescott and Betsy Smith of Vision and Strategy LLC in Portland, who will be doing the work, according to Hitchings.
The business plan will include a rough fundraising plan for construction of a new building to take the place of the existing theater, which is deteriorating. Costs for the new building have been estimated at about $200,000.
The theater closed in December 2014, after longtime owner Dave Parsons died. Parsons’ brother Richard is willing to sell the building and lot to Gateway: Milbridge for $50,000. Purchasing the building is the first step in the process, Hitchings said.
Once the purchase is complete, Gateway: Milbridge will demolish the building and grade the lot, creating a usable green space, she said. This will show the community some progress while fundraising efforts continue for the new building.
“It could sit there for a few years while we’re raising the money,” Hitchings said.
Constructing a new building will allow the group to install a portable stage and seating that can be removed so the space can be used for other things. This will allow the theater to serve as a community gathering space.
“People actually do want somewhere to visit and socialize,” said Richard Bondurant, another Gateway: Milbridge board member.
In addition to the grant, the group recently received $5,000 from an anonymous donor. Two additional donations — one for $1,000 and one for $5,000 — have been pledged, said Bondurant.
He said the secret to the group’s recent success is “personal outreach.”
Bondurant has reached out to about 100 businesses in Milbridge and the surrounding area that have Facebook pages and explained the project. He said he is not asking for donations, but rather letting people know what is going on.
“A lot of people really hadn’t heard about the project,” he said.
He asked the Facebook users if they would post a message about the project and most are eager to do so.
Gateway: Milbridge will be asking for donations down the road but wants to start by just educating the public, he said. So far, they estimate they have raised about $20,000.
In the meantime, the group will be cleaning up the Milbridge Theatre property Sunday, June 5, during the second day of a downtown beautification project known as “Milbridge Blooms.”
Twenty large, permanent planters will be placed at businesses along Main Street Saturday and Sunday, June 4 and 5, starting at 10 a.m. Volunteers will be filling them with soil and planting petunias and fountain grass.
Volunteers are sought. Anyone interested is asked to show up at 10 a.m. Saturday or Sunday at the Bayside parking lot.
For more information, call 214-0588 or visit milbridgeblooms.org.