Community hall for Belfast focus of forum tonight

Posted June 24, 2009, at 8:46 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — A city consultant has estimated that it could cost up to $7 million to convert the former Mathews Bros. building into a multipurpose community meeting-performance space.

That was the conclusion reached by the Belfast Community Hall Study completed earlier this month by consultants hired by the City Council. An estimate by other consultants found that constructing a new building from scratch could cost $13 million.

Neither estimate included the cost of purchasing either the Mathews building or property for a new building.

Consultant Christopher Shrum is scheduled to review his findings with the city’s Performing Arts Community Center Committee beginning at 6 tonight in Conference Room A at City Hall. The meeting is open to the public.

“The Belfast Community Hall will have a powerful catalytic effect on the character of downtown Belfast, on the economic well-being of eastern Maine and on the members of the regional community,” the report determined.

Although any decision on a community center would be made by the council, committee member Michael Hurley believes the Mathews Bros. building is the best option. The building is near the downtown and Belfast Common with adequate city-owned lots a short walk away. Trying to put a new building in the same general area would be much more expensive, he said.

“It’s close to the downtown and easy to reconfigure. It’s big enough and because of its layout, it has great potential,” Hurley said of the Mathews property Wednesday. “In my opinion, I’d put money that there isn’t another town in Maine that is a county seat that doesn’t need something like this.”

As part of their study, consultants Shrum and Don Hirsch Design Studio conducted in-depth interviews and research to assess support for and interest in the project. They also used sociodemographic data and lifestyle modeling to determine the market potential for such a facility. In all areas they found that the community could support a multipurpose facility.

Estimated annual operating expenses, including a $45,000 salary for an executive director, over the first three years were $240,029. Estimated annual income over the same period averaged $183,977, leaving an annual operating deficit of approximately $56,000.

The Mathews Bros. building has two stories totaling 30,000 square feet of space and could feature four distinct areas to support a wide range of activities.

As the consultants envision it, the lower floor could house craft rooms, dance studios, woodworking space and even room to create a business incubator zone to promote opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures.

The upper floor could have at its center a 7,800-square-foot multifunction hall for corporate meetings, conferences, conventions and other large community events. There is also room for a 70-foot-by-75-foot auditorium seating up to 400 people. The building has ample area for storage, a large kitchen, meeting rooms and class-rooms.

City planner Wayne Marshall said the Mathews Bros. building is in the downtown zone and is suitable for conversion to a multiuse facility. He said zoning for that area requires one parking space for every three theater seats and that surrounding lots should be able to accommodate that requirement.

“Because of where it is as part of the Downtown Commercial Zoning District, the planning board would have the authority to consider its proximity to public parking areas as well as on-street parking,” Marshall said.

According to assessing department records, the Mathews Bros. building is valued at $703,600 and the land at $215,800. A company-owned 0.45-acre vacant lot across the street is valued at $98,600. If those parcels were removed from the tax rolls, the city would lose $18,935 in annual revenue based on the current mill rate of $18.60 per $1,000 of valuation.

Hurley said although the company was aware of the city’s interest there have been no formal discussions.

“They know some people are interested but nobody is ready to proceed to that point yet,” he said. “This is something the City Council has to decide and we haven’t even made a recommendation to the council. It’s a long process, and this is just the beginning.”

wgriffin@bangordailynews.net

338-9546

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