April 30, 2010

Alfond group pledges $2M for Opera House

BY AMY CALDER Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- The Harold Alfond Foundation is pledging $2 million toward a $4 million Opera House renovation and expansion project, Foundation Chairman Gregory Powell announced Wednesday.

In keeping with the late Harold Alfond's practice of offering matching grants, the donation means the foundation will match every dollar raised by the Opera House project, up to $2 million.

Powell, speaking to more than 50 city and Opera House officials, representatives of Waterville organizations, actors and others who turned out at the Opera House for the event, urged the community to follow suit.

"We hope our commitment to match every donation will inspire all members of this community who have enjoyed the Opera House over the years to support the renovation of this historic theater," Powell said.

Opera House officials already have raised about $1 million toward the work, which will include installing a freight elevator to access the stage, improve egress to meet fire codes, update the rigging system and improve balcony seating.

An addition also will be built to house dressing rooms, which now are situated on the side of the stage. New public restrooms will be built in the addition, and the theater's lobby will be enlarged.

The 960-seat city-owned theater opened in 1902 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Alfond, a Waterville philanthropist who founded the Dexter Shoe Co., died in 2007. He donated funds to build athletic facilities and fields for many private and public colleges, universities and private secondary schools.

The facilities, which all bear his name, include the stadium, hockey rink and outdoor track at Colby College; a sports stadium and hockey arena at University of Maine; a student recreation center at St. Joseph's College; and an athletic center at Thomas College. He also funded the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care and the Alfond Youth Center.

"Harold Alfond had a soft spot in his heart for his hometown of Waterville, and perhaps no other institution embodies the cultural history of Waterville like the Opera House," Powell said.

He was accompanied Wednesday by foundation trustees Peter Alfond (Harold's son) and Bob Marden, a close friend of Harold Alfond's. At the urging of Marden, Harold Alfond became a season sponsor of the Opera House, according to Powell.

Opera House Executive Director Diane Bryan thanked the Alfond Foundation.

"We really could not do it without their support," she said.

Bill Mitchell and Diane Brandt Landry (chairwoman of the Opera House Board of Directors) co-chair the capital campaign. Mitchell said he was sure that if Alfond and his wife, Bibby, had been present Wednesday, they would be proud of the project. He thanked everyone involved and said he and Brandt Landry are anxious to start the campaign.

"A very special thank-you to the Harold Alfond Foundation -- to Greg Powell and the Alfond family -- for your generous match gift to the Waterville Opera House," Mitchell said.

Many of those who were in the audience have personal attachments to the Opera House.

Marie Cormier of Oakland has performed on the stage many times and will appear June 26 in "Shirley Valentine." She said she was excited about the donation and what it means for the facility.

"I think we're going to get the Opera House back to the precious gem that it is -- should be," she said. "This is going to be beautiful."

Shannon Haines, executive director of both Waterville Main Street and the Maine International Film Festival, echoed Cormier's sentiments.

"I think the Opera House is the key component of downtown, and the success of the Opera House really gives economic vitality to the downtown," she said.

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