As Construction Nears Completion, $18 Million Waterville Downtown Art Center Will Open Dec. 17

A Landry/French Construction electrician works on recessed lighting Tuesday at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Construction work is nearing completion and the center is expected to open to the public on December 17. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

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

The 30,000 square foot center at 93 Main St., 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 .

“It’s really going to help bring in and support the creative arts,” said Brian Clark, Colby’s vice president of planning. “It will bring people to the heart of downtown all the time. It’s another reason to come to Main Street, not just to shop, dine or have a drink, but to truly have a great cultural experience.

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

Jeff Cochran, a Scarborough-based carpenter with Landry/French Construction, removes a Waterville City Hall door on Tuesday that led to a flyover that has since been replaced with a new one that stretches to the Paul J Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

Although Waterville Creates President and CEO Shannon Haines was unable to attend, she said in a later phone interview that she and others were looking forward to moving in.

“It will be, I think, a great moment for Waterville and for the community that has supported the arts for decades,” Haines said.

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

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

Jason Sheckley of the Connecticut-based New England Theater Service puts on a movie screen in one of the theaters Tuesday at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

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

The glass-enclosed spaces on the ground floor include the Ticonic Gallery and Studios, classrooms and a Clay Studio with eight potteries and two kilns that Clay Studio members can access 24 hours a day, seven days a week. .

“It brings producers and creators of art into the public sphere,” Clark said. “Waterville Creates is an artistic experience for everyone.”

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

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

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

Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate at Colby College, far right, leads U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree, second from right, through the newly constructed flyover on Tuesday that will connect the Paul J. Schupf Art Center at City Hall in downtown Waterville. Michael G. Seamans / Morning Watchman

The Joan Dignam Schmaltz Art Gallery, believed to be an extension of the Colby College Art Museum on Main Street, is also prominently displayed in the building. The gallery has all the separate mechanical systems, including air handling, to house high-end artwork.

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

Offices for Waterville Creates, including the Maine Film Center, Opera House, and Ticonic Gallery and Studios, are in the basement. Electrical, sprinkler, computer and other mechanical spaces are also located in the basement.

Waterville Creates owned the Center building that previously stood on 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 city’s top five taxpayers, also pays taxes on the other buildings he’s 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 approximately $200 million invested in downtown over the past few years, Colby’s investments are $85 million, according to Clark. He said Colby’s commitment from the start was to buy and rehabilitate properties and keep them on the tax rolls.

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

“Given COVID, supply issues, 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 Centre. After Colby President David Greene arrived in Waterville eight years ago, he held a series of meetings with city officials, arts advocates, business people and others to help identify what the city needed to thrive and succeed. Rehabilitating vacant buildings, attracting more people to live and work downtown, strengthening the arts and supporting arts and businesses already there were identified as priorities. Colby began buying and rehabilitating buildings and constructing new ones, and others followed suit.

The Schupf Center is nearing completion, as the $11.2 million downtown revitalization is also slated for completion 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 the downtown area safer and more user-friendly.

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