A truck passes by the Milbridge Theater site in central Milbridge on Friday, May 28, 2021. A new theater building is under construction at the site, years after the old one shut down and was later demolished. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Years after the Milbridge Theater fell into disrepair and its owner passed away, a not-for-profit organization has started construction on a new theater and hopes to make substantial progress by the end of the summer toward reestablishing a key community gathering spot.

Gateway: Milbridge was formed in 2015, after theater owner Dave Parsons passed away, in hopes of bringing the theater back to life and, in doing so, of supporting the Washington County town’s economy. After a few years of raising funds for a new theater, the group began construction of a new building in April.

The group so far has raised $560,000 toward the $680,000 goal it set for the project, said Richard Bondurant, chairman of the group’s board. The group’s goal is to complete the structure this summer and finish the exterior of the building by late fall, in addition to installing heating and ventilating systems, so that work might continue through the winter to finish the interior, he said.

The cost of building materials has climbed steeply during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, which could lengthen the time it takes to raise money and complete the project, Bondurant said.

The vision for the new theater is not just to show movies, but also to function as a live performance venue and to host other events. The group wants it to be a true community gathering space for people who live in Milbridge and surrounding towns, he said.

“We don’t have a large interior gathering space in our region” aside from nearby schools, which often are in use, Bondurant said. “We want this to be a versatile building. Back in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, it had a variety of programming.”

The plans for the building call for having more than 200 seats and 5,000 square feet of space, he said. A community room that can host smaller gatherings is part of the design plans, as well as a concessions area.

The original theater was built in 1937 and initially served mostly as a live performance venue, according to a history of the theater on the group’s website. It shifted to mainly showing movies in the 1970s.

After Parsons’ death, the building was deemed too deteriorated to be saved, and so was demolished in 2017, but Gateway: Milbridge has continued to sponsor events during summers such as outdoor movies and live music, while raising funds to rebuild. It will continue staging events this summer at the town’s public landing on Bay View Road, off Route 1A east of the central village.

Bondurant said families of the old theater’s former owners — including Tom Weingart, who sold the theater to Parsons in the 1970s and, prior to Weingart, country musicians Ray and Ann Little — have been supportive of rebuilding the theater. Gateway: Milbridge plans to commemorate the role previous owners played in sustaining the local community when the new theater is completed, hopefully by mid-2022, he said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....