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More in News
Governor will release Opera House funds by 2015
NORWAY — The town has received written assurance from Governor Paul LePage that a $400,000 Communities for Maine's Future (CMF) grant crucial for fixing up the Opera House will be released on or before June 20, 2015.
"We've had some luck," State Senator Dave Hastings, R-Fryeburg, told selectmen during their August 2 meeting. "All is not lost."
State Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, also attended the meeting to deliver the news. Like other state legislators, the two have been working together to get the governor to release the funding.
On July 31, Governor LePage wrote a memo to Maine State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin authorizing him to release $400,000 in funds – needed to save the 1894 iconic downtown building – by 2015.
"I believe it's all you're going to get from the governor at this point," Hastings said.
Town Manager David Holt agreed. “This is the best we're going to do," he told selectmen. "I don't know how to fix this any better."
Hastings said the other affected communities that received grants for downtown revitalization projects, including Bath, Belfast, Dover-Foxcroft, Eastport, Monmouth, Rockland, Skowhegan, Unity and Winthrop have not heard from the governor – Norway and Livermore Falls are the only two.
In response to the news, selectmen will take out a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) to fund the renovation of six first-floor storefronts in the building.
"I believe the project can be salvaged and move ahead," said Holt, thanking both Rep. Winsor and Sen. Hastings for their hard work.
The town has been working to save the Opera House for five years now. Holt said if the town doesn't take out a BAN, it could lose its historic tax credits that are necessary to fund the project.
On June 8, 2010, statewide voters approved a $25 million bond issue that included $3.5 million for the CMF program.
However, this June the governor dropped the bomb that he would not be issuing the bonds until at least 2014. Norway heard the news just two days after it transferred the building's deed to the Norway Opera House Corporation and right before the $1.1 million renovation project was to go out to bid.
The town has already invested $130,000 in architect and legal fees, said Holt, and the CMF grant would have helped cover the cost. Selectman Bill Damon and his wife, Bea, have generously donated $200,000 toward saving the building.
"What was difficult for Norway was, we didn't get any word of communication from anybody," said Holt. "It really would have been helpful to know sooner."
Chairman Russ Newcomb agreed saying,"the biggest problem was lack of communication." He said if the town had known about the bond freeze ahead of time, it "would've known when to put the brakes on."
As written in LePage's memo, Hastings said the bond funds must be released within five years of the public vote – otherwise they cannot be issued.
While funds won't be available for a few years, the BAN will be a step in the right direction, Hastings said. He told selectmen not to worry, as he feels confident the governor will stand behind his commitment.
"You may not agree with his decisions," said Hastings, "but he's always done what he says he is going to do."
GOOD NEWS — Left, State Senator Dave Hastings, R-Fryeburg, and State Representative Tom Winsor, R-Norway, right, attended the Norway Selectmen meeting August 2 to share the news that Governor Paul LePage has made a commitment to issue the bonds needed to restore Norway's iconic 1894 Opera House on or before June 20, 2015. Seated between the two is Dennise Whitley of Norway, a democratic candidate for State Senate District 13.