April 25, 2018
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Group raising money to save Milbridge Theatre

By Johanna S. Billings, BDN Staff

MILBRIDGE, Maine — Reopening the former Milbridge movie house as a community theater has become the first project of Gateway: Milbridge, a downtown revitalization effort.

“[The theater] is the first project because it’s really the passion of the community,” Crystal Hitchings, who launched the Milbridge revitalization effort last spring, said.

As a community theater, it would not be limited to showing movies. It also would host concerts, plays, comedy shows and other types of entertainment, she said.

The Milbridge Theatre closed after the December 2014 death of owner Dave Parsons. Parsons’ brother, Richard, has agreed to give Gateway: Milbridge the first right of refusal to purchase the property.

“We’re looking at a good $200,000 for the project,” Hitchings said. The total includes $50,000 for the property and an estimated $150,000 for renovations to the building.

In order to get started raising cash, Hitchings started an online crowdfunding campaign at gofundme.com/ milbridgetheater. As of 1 p.m. Friday, after six days in operation, the site had raised $1,195 of its $100,000 goal.

“I just decided to start [the gofundme site] because we’re searching for grants. We’re going to need matching funds, and we need to show community support,” she said. “It’s also a good way to get people excited.”

Hitchings said the idea for the gofundme site came from a post on the Facebook page Milbridge Movie Theater Restoration Committee.

“I would have never thought of it,” she said.

Hitchings also is applying for a $50,000 grant from a private foundation, which does not require matching funds. That grant, to be awarded sometime this winter, would provide enough money to buy the building. Money raised on gofundme then could be used for the renovations.

“Once we purchase [the property], we can move as fast or slow as we want to,” Hitchings said. “And then we know it’s safe.”

A best-case scenario would be to get that grant and buy the building this winter, begin renovations in the spring of 2016 and open the theater sometime in 2017, she said.

Hitchings said the building may need to be demolished and a new one built. If so, the committee would seek to preserve the character of the original structure.

“Part of the renovation of the theater would be saving as many artifacts as possible and reusing them,” Hitchings said.

Hitchings, 43, grew up in Cherryfield and remembers going to the Milbridge Theatre as a youth.

“It was the pace where all the kids went Friday and Saturday nights,” she said.

Reopening a theater will be good for the community, she said.

“I think it will help put Milbridge on the map,” she said.

Richard Parsons, brother of the theater’s former owner, agrees. He said the movie house was very important to the downtown area because it brought people in.

He said he believes his brother would be pleased to see the community fighting to save his theater.

“I think it‘s wonderful,” he said.

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