What People are Reading
- What a very sad and shocking
2 years 1 day ago
- Smart Meters
2 years 3 weeks ago
- 100 year old house burns
2 years 3 weeks ago
- Column 2-10 re Treason
2 years 12 weeks ago
- Radical Difference
2 years 12 weeks ago
- This activity is such a
2 years 21 weeks ago
- Okay Great we got a sign!
2 years 21 weeks ago
- Hate Crime a Sad Moment Indeed
2 years 23 weeks ago
More in Featured
Governor puts Opera House at risk
NORWAY — The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) is considering alternate ways to fund some of the projects stalled by Governor Paul Lepage's refusal to issue any bonds until 2014, according to Doug Ray, a spokesperson of DECD.
"We are aware of what's going on inside those communities and we're working on a solution for the projects that are critical," he says.
Ray says that DECD was always trying to find a solution to get things done without additional borrowing.
The decision to find funding for the critical projects, including the Opera House, was not necessarily a reaction to the effects of the bond freeze, he says.
"We're operating within the confines that he [LePage] has put forth and we're trying to accomplish those goals," he explained.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor's press secretary said that the governor's office was looking into the issue and was in touch with DECD.
Two days into owning the historic Norway Opera House, members of the group attempting to restore the building were given the bad news – because of the move by LePage, a $400,000 grant from the state to pay for first-floor renovations to the building will not be available.
Members of the Norway Opera House Corporation (NOHC) and town officials are stunned by the move.
"I couldn't be more surprised," says Town Manager David Holt.
On June 13, LePage announced that he would refuse to issue $40 million in voter-approved bonds until the state's debt and spending were under control. Some of the bonds were approved by voters as far back as 2009.
In a letter to agencies that were expecting the money, LePage said that Maine was already paying $100 million a year to finance debt payments from previous bonds and approving new borrowing would be "fiscally irresponsible."
He said that the earliest the bonds would be available is January 2014.
The $400,000 grant was provided through Communities for Maine's Future, a program of the DECD. CMF was funded with $3.5 million from a $25 million bond initiative that was approved by voters in 2010.
According to NOHC board member Bruce Cook, the group intended to start finding contractors for the building after the July 4 holiday and have five storefronts ready for lease by November.
Now, those plans have been put on hold indefinitely.
"It's just pretty discouraging," Cook says. "We worked really hard to get here."
The renovations are expected to cost around $1.1 million, so the loss of the grant is a crippling blow – the $400,000 formed the base of the project.
The remainder of the cost will be covered by fund-raising, federal and state tax credits and a matching $400,000 interim loan from Norway Savings Bank.
Holt says the Opera House Project can't wait until 2014 – the tax credits the town and NOHC worked for a year to get are not permanent.
"The tax credits are based on a calendar. We don't have long," says Holt.
He hopes that the governor will change his mind about the freeze, because it's too late to stop the project now.
Dennis Gray, president of NOHC says that the tax credits are for a two-year period and would allow the group to include previous work done to shore-up the building as well as the interior renovation.
That two-year deadline is rapidly approaching, and Gray is concerned about the future.
"Without these funds, this will never happen," he says.
Norway's Opera House has been vacant for years and Holt hoped that the project could finally move forward.
"We've worked awfully hard for an awful long time and overcome a lot of obstacles," Holt says.
"I thought that we finally had overcome all the things that stood in our way," he continues, "I'm just really, really taken aback by this."
Glen Holmes, the director of the Western Maine Economic Development Council, says blocking the bonds could have a negative impact on Norway's downtown redevelopment.
"Obviously revitalizing downtown Norway is a major issue that has been worked on for a number of years," said Holmes.
"That building is a key piece to that whole project," he continues, "without that storefront being revitalized and put in place it makes a big hole."
Norway is one of 11 municipalities that received CMF grants.
Skowhegan, one of the towns that also received $400,000, is also dealing with the fallout from LePage's decision.
John Doucette, Skowhegan's town manager, says that the town's plan to improve the town's municipal parking area with pedestrian walkways and green space is in jeopardy.
He doesn't understand the governor's reasoning, particularly since LePage has frequently mentioned that encouraging economic growth in Maine is his top priority.
"This is a project that is economic development," says Doucette.
"His whole thing is 'we need to bring business in' and the town of Skowhegan is looking at that ... this is part of a project that is for our future."
The parties who want to see the Opera House become the cornerstone of downtown Norway again are considering how to react to the bond freeze.
Gray still hopes the governor's decision can be reversed – and quickly.
Holt says that many different parties have been working to bring the Opera House case to the governor's attention.
Tom Winsor, the Republican state representative for Norway says that he learned about the freeze of the project last Friday and has since been in contact with the governor's office to offer details about the plan and what the consequences of the bond freeze are for Norway.
"I don't think the people involved were aware that the freezing of all bonds affected these ongoing projects," he says.
"I want to make sure at least the governor's people are aware of the consequences of that particular decision."
So far, Winsor has been pleased with the reaction he has received from the governor's staff.
"The governor's office, as far as I'm concerned, has been very responsive in getting additional information and we're providing that and hoping that when they review it, they'll consider this particular project worthy of funding," he says.
FUNDING NEEDED — Plans to restore the historic Norway Opera House, with its distinctive clock tower, have been put on hold after Governor Paul LePage refused to issue a bond package for the state. A $400,000 grant to restore the building was included in the package and many are now concerned the plan will fall through without the funding.