Augusta’s Culture Reborn Through Restoration Of Colonial Theatre
As folks around Central Maine make their way to work daily, they pass a historical site cherished by many in the neighborhood. The Colonial Theatre sits on Water Street in Augusta... and has sat there since 1913. Generations have come and gone while this structure has stayed for over 100 years.
According to the Augusta Colonial Theatre site, this piece of history is worth restoring and the crew has worked to avoid demolition. To an architect, the building is priceless for it's lasting quality and use of stylistic design. Since the Colonial was around in the early 1900's (before any Netflix & Chill was available in the homes of the Augusta people) the theatre featured silent motion pictures with live music being played in the background. The theatre closed in 1966.
Until 1995, when the non-profit organization Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded, the theatre had been used for storage, suffering considerable damage. In 2011, the Colonial Theater was listed on Maine Preservation's list of Most Endangered Historic Resources and in 2014 became a National Historic Landmark.
Sue McPhee, the Colonial Theatre Committees’ Public Relations Principle, explained the Colonial will work to be anything and everything the community needs it to be by transforming Augusta into a culture center - a destination place so that people no longer drive past the capital.
McPhee explained, “We had a school, now we have a better school; We had a library, now we have a better library; We had a hospital, now we have a better hospital; But what are we doing that’s new and is going to bring people to town?”
This is one main goal of the theatre along with developing more of a sense of community while putting Augusta on the map. With UMA providing the only five-year professional architecture program and aviation program that allows students to become a commercial pilot directly out of school, the potential is there for increasing enrollment... but there is nothing for students to do around town, nothing to draw them in to stay.
“We need to keep young people like you in town, just being vibrant with your brain and whatever you’re going to be doing,” said McPhee.
What specifically will the Colonial do?
Video streaming of the Superbowl, the Westminster dog show or other events, lecture series, dance recitals, an annual forum for national dignitaries, low-cost non-profit fundraising, drama camp and summer programs to benefit the children of the community, live performances. In a nutshell, the Colonial will serve the community in every way necessary to integrate the people while providing a little bit of everything.
“I think it’s fair to say that Augusta is pretty starved for culture,” McPhee said. “There are organic musicians in Maine that we would love to feature that nowhere else has.”
In downtown Augusta, the goal is to create a vibrant arts district that will bring an energy to the city, along with a new culture, image and brand to build pride for our capital.
Not only this, but the theatre will provide a space for young professionals to explore their potential with innovation and creativity. Knowing full well that some artists struggle with funds, the Colonial Committee wishes to create a place for them at an affordable rental rate. An endowed fund will be available for those of whom cannot afford to attend events.
“We are going to make it affordable so that everyone can have access to the arts,” said McPhee. “We can promise that.” Although, there will be times when shows will not be as cheap.
The building next to the Colonial was donated to the committee and the City of Augusta is helping to create a parking garage all in hopes of helping to revitalize the community. The donated building will feature a restaurant with service linked directly to the balcony of the theatre, box seats, art galleries, dance rehearsal areas and studios allowing for natural sunlight with the possibility of classroom spaces for Architecture and Fine Arts students from UMA.
The Theatre itself will have top of the line visual, lighting and audio equipment, a large stage and balcony all seating around 600 to 700 people with the hopes of operating an ambitious 200 days a year. But, that is exactly what the Colonial Committee is: Ambitious.
McPhee said they hope to complete the fundraising portion in 30 more months. They’ve been at it a short six while making unbelievable strides in the right direction. McPhee said this is her 4th campaign and she has never seen it happen this quickly. It takes a “committed core group of people coming together and saying this is the most important thing that has to happen in Augusta right now,” she said.
With Augusta’s location being directly between Portland and Bangor, shows and acts can be coordinated between other theaters around the state to bring more revenue to all of Maine. Coupled with a ticket to the theatre and payment for a taxi, increased spending at local shops, a babysitter, or drinks at the bars across the street, the Colonial will help filter more money into the local economy.
The Colonial Theatre is estimated to be up and running by 2020 at the latest. By that time more businesses, restaurants and bars will already be in place.
“Born and raised here - I have to say, historically, Augusta has sort of been the nowhere place,” said McPhee. “It’s all timed. It’s all part of a bigger plan to revitalize this part of town and as a result the entire city and... I would argue... Central Maine. Its magic when you go in,” McPhee described the theatre. “Raw space, just beautiful in and of itself, if you have that mindset - if you don’t... it needs a hell of a lot of work”.
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