Katahdin area entrepreneurs gear up to open events center

Posted Sept. 16, 2008, at 9:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:25 a.m.

MILLINOCKET, Maine — The Katahdin region will have a new place for weddings, parties, meetings, teen dances and other public and private affairs when the Northern Plaza Events Center opens next month, its proprietors said Tuesday.

Photographer and disc jockey John Raymond and Steve Morrow, the property and project manager at the Northern Plaza Shopping Center off Route 157, were helping paint and insulate the storefront once occupied by Curves in preparation for the opening. No exact date has been set.

The events center, they said, will be nothing if not versatile.

“We will be able to host most any kind of event here,” Morrow said Tuesday. “We have already had some inquiries about singles dances and that sort of thing.”

“And we definitely want to host something for the [Katahdin Paper Co. LLC] workers,” Raymond said in reference to workers likely to be laid off at the Millinocket and East Millinocket paper mills over the next three weeks.

“This place will benefit the entire region,” he added.

With 3,200 square feet, the events center will have plenty of room. It will have a large-screen projection system, Raymond’s sound and lighting systems, a soda bar and access to town caterers, including Effie’s Bakery and Rooster’s Restaurant of Millinocket, that will help meld it to any event, Raymond said.

Raymond will manage the events center and DJ and photograph events there. He hopes to host Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, and Super Bowl events, possibly for local organizations doing fundraisers.

“Now this kind of gives me a home,” Raymond said. “I will have one system here and one system that I can take with me.”

Both men were buoyed by the support received from attorney Gary Silversmith, who owns the plaza. A national developer who owns 19 shopping centers, Silversmith bought the former Ames Plaza for an undisclosed amount in late July 2007 and has spent more than $300,000 repairing and beautifying it. Those efforts continue, Morrow said.

Silversmith is still looking for plaza tenants, and besides the events center, has a flea market operating on Fridays and weekends in the 40,000-square-foot space once occupied by Ames. The center also includes a Dollar Store, Serenity hair salon, Movie Gallery, pizza restaurant and large food store.

Raymond and Morrow said they are determined to make the events center work despite the looming mill closure.

The region’s biggest employer, Katahdin Paper Co. LLC, which owns a mill in East Millinocket and one in Millinocket, has ceased production at the Katahdin Avenue mill and plans to eliminate as many as 208 jobs, if an alternative energy source is not found. The mill used more than 400,000 gallons of oil making steam in 2007.

“We’ve already been through the worst,” Raymond said in reference to a mill bankruptcy in late 2003 that devastated the region’s economy. “Nobody is going to do anything for us. If we want to continue to live here, we are the ones who are going to have to create the opportunities that will benefit the town and the region. That’s what this is all about.”

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