MILBRIDGE — It’s been six years since the Milbridge Theatre went dark and seeing movies there ceased being a local pastime. Built by Charlie Murch in 1937, the Main Street theater closed after its last owner, Dave Parsons, died in 2014. Subsequent snowstorms further damaged the already deteriorated historic structure, most of which was razed save for the taco stand in 2017.
Earlier this week, the theater’s revival, and the promise of movie-going there again, became a reality as Milbridge officials, merchants and citizens ceremoniously thrust shovels in the ground to begin construction of the new Milbridge Theatre and Community Arts Center on Main Street. Gateway Milbridge, a nonprofit group that promotes downtown economic and cultural revitalization, led a successful campaign to first purchase the theater and raise more than $400,000 to “Bring Back the Milbridge Theatre” at 26 Main St. Schoodic Insurance, Kelco Industries, Wyman’s of Maine, Reality of Maine, Machias Savings Bank, Bar Harbor Bank & Trust and Camden National Bank contributed to the project launched in 2015. Funding also was forthcoming from the Maine Community Foundation. Morton Kelly Charitable Trust, Davis Family Foundation, C.F. Adams Charitable Trust, the Quimby Foundation, the Maine Arts Commission and the Onion Foundation.
“Rural areas like ours face difficult headwinds these days,” Gateway Milbridge Chairman Richard Bondurant said in a press release. “The economic and social redevelopment projects we are engaged in and our work in rebuilding and reopening the Milbridge Theatre as a full-service community arts center are critical to the region’s economy and our residents’ quality of life.”
Being built by Barbee Construction of Sullivan, the Milbridge Theatre and Community Arts Center will be 1.5-story building. The year-round facility will house a 200-plus-seat auditorium with sloped, fixed seating. The first floor also will feature a community gathering room for social events and eventually a snack/concessions area. An upstairs level, overlooking the auditorium, will contain projection and sound equipment.
Since its founding in 2015, Gateway Milbridge has built an outdoor stage featuring free, live performances. The group has helped stage “Holidays on Main Street,” the town’s “Milbridge Days” celebration as well as its own successful Lighthouse Art Project and last year’s Bicentennial Art Project.
“Our projects put emphasis not only on providing our region with a year-round venue for arts and educational programming,” Bondurant said, “but also on driving economic vitality to our village center, increasing student involvement in the arts, offering student internships, providing a social outlet for our large elderly population, creating positive cross-cultural interaction opportunities for our rapidly growing Hispanic population and enhancing civic pride/social health across our community.”
To learn more, visit Gateway Milbridge’s Facebook page and milbridgetheater.org.