As construction nears completion, Waterville’s $18 million downtown arts center will debut Dec. 17

An electrician from Landry/French Construction works on recessed lighting at the Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts in downtown Waterville on Tuesday. Construction work is nearing completion and the center is scheduled to open to the public on December 17. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Watch

WATERVILLE — Workers on the $18 million Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts downtown are in the final weeks of construction, with completion expected Dec. 9 and a public opening scheduled for Dec. 17.

The 30,000-square-foot center on Main St. 93, developed by Colby College and Waterville Creates, brings together the city’s visual and performing arts offerings under one roof and includes three theaters as part of The Maine Film Center.

“This will really help introduce and support the creative arts,” said Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president for planning. “It will bring people all the time into the heart of downtown. It’s another reason to come to the high street, not just to shop or dine or grab a drink, but to really have a great cultural experience.”

Clark and Paul Urenek, Colby’s director of commercial real estate, lead a tour of the center Tuesday with George Sopko, the college’s director of media relations.

Jeff Cochran, a carpenter with Scarborough-based Landry/French Construction, removes a door from Waterville City Hall that leads to a sky bridge that has since been replaced with a new one that spans the Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts in downtown Waterville in Tuesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Watch

Although the president and CEO of Waterville Creates, Shannon Haynes, was unable to attend, she said in a phone interview later that she and others can’t wait to move in.

“I think this is going to be a huge moment for Waterville and for the community that has supported the arts for decades,” Haynes said.

The center is named after Paul J. Schuff, an art collector and longtime Colby benefactor who lived in Hamilton, New York, and died in 2019 at age 82. Schupf, also a trustee emeritus of the college, gave a gift for the center’s naming, the amount of which he asked not to be disclosed.

The Ed Harris Box Office, just outside the front entrance on Main Street, will offer tickets for all visual and performing arts events, including those at the Waterville Opera House, the Maine Film Center and the galleries. A giant glass curtain wall on the first and second floors faces Castonguey Square to the south. Bixby Chocolates in this space will offer cakes, pastries and fresh-roasted coffee, including espresso. Visitors can sit at tables or in a mini-living room overlooking the square. The area is called The Hub, a place to work and gather, named after Colby alumnus Mark Hubbert, who donated to the effort.

Jason Shackley, with the Connecticut-based New England Theater Service, sets up a movie screen in one of the theaters at the Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts in downtown Waterville on Tuesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Watch

“There is free public Wi-Fi throughout the building,” Urenek said.

The glazed spaces on the ground floor include the Ticonic Gallery and Studios, classrooms and a clay studio with eight potter’s wheels and two kilns that Clay Studio members have access to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“It brings art producers and creators into the public sphere,” Clark said. “Waterville Creates is about experiencing art for everyone.”

Three small, medium and large theaters on the second level will seat 24, 46 and 120 patrons, respectively, and the small theater can be rented out for home theater events, children’s birthday parties and the like, according to Clark.

A concession stand, cafe tables and a lounge are also on the second level, as is a wall of glass overlooking Main Street and an aerial leading to the expanded Waterville Opera House lobby. A mural by Tessa O’Brien, a visiting artist at the Lunder Institute for American Art who works at Greene Block + Studios across Main Street from the Lockwood Hotel, will be featured on one large wall.

Studio 1902, a flexible space designed to be the Opera’s rehearsal space, is also on the second level and is sized to the Opera’s main stage. The studio will feature a mirror and bar along the wall and a “spring” floor for dance and theater productions.

Paul Urenek, director of Colby College’s commercial real estate department, far right, leads U.S. Rep. Chelli Pingree, second from right, across the newly constructed aerial bridge that will connect the Paul J. Schupf Center for the Arts to City Hall in downtown Waterville on Tuesday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Watch

Also prominently located in the building is the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Art Gallery, considered an expansion of the Colby College Museum of Art on Main Street. The gallery has all the separate mechanical systems, including air handling, to store high-end art.

“Bringing the museum to Main Street is huge,” Clark said. “It’s going to make it accessible in a way it’s never been.”

Waterville Creates offices, including for the Maine Film Center, the Opera House and the Ticonic Gallery and Studios, are on the basement level. Electrical, sprinkler, IT and other mechanical rooms are also located in the basement.

Waterville Creates owned The Center building that previously occupied the site. Colby and Waterville Creates raised the $18 million needed for the Schupf Center, and Elm City 93 LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Colby, will operate, maintain and pay taxes on the building, according to Ureneck.

Colby, one of the five largest taxpayers in the city, also pays taxes on other buildings it has built downtown, including the Lockwood Hotel, Greene Block + Studios, Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons and the former Waterville Savings Building at 173 Main St . The hotel itself generates $300,000 a year in property taxes, not including personal property taxes.

Of the roughly $200 million invested downtown in the past few years, Colby’s investment is $85 million, according to Clark. He said Colby’s commitment from the beginning has been to buy and rehabilitate properties and keep them on the tax rolls.

Urenek, who oversees all of Colby’s downtown construction projects, said work on the Schupf Center is pending.

“Given the COVID, the supply issues, the labor issues, overall we’ve done very well,” he said.

Construction began in 2021 by Landry/French Construction of Scarborough following the demolition of the Center. After Colby President David Green arrived in Waterville eight years ago, he held a series of meetings with city officials, arts advocates, business people and others to help determine what the city needed to thrive and succeed. Rehabilitating empty buildings, attracting more people to live and work downtown, strengthening the arts and supporting the arts and businesses already here were identified as priorities. Colby began buying and rehabilitating buildings and building new ones, and others followed suit.

The Schupf Center is nearing completion as an $11.2 million revitalization of the center is also scheduled to wrap up next month. This project includes converting one-way traffic on Main and Front Streets to two-way traffic and improving intersections, sidewalks and landscaping to make downtown safer and more user-friendly.

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