Gardiner’s Johnson Hall renovations need more support amid rising inflation, officials say

The Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center at 280 Water St. in downtown Gardiner, pictured in July 2021. As inflation continues to drive up construction costs, Johnson Hall officials are asking officials for an additional $150,000 Gardiner for the renovation of the historic opera house. File Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — Faced with skyrocketing costs driven by inflation, officials at the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center are revising fundraising goals and aiming to raise more money.

As part of this push and with the cost of the project now approaching $8 million, they are asking Gardiner city officials to match the $150,000 donation from the city that has already been committed.

Gardiner officials are expected to hold a public hearing Wednesday into that application to hear public comment.

Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, and Logan Johnston, co-chairman of its fundraising campaign, presented their request for funds to be raised from revenue from the Downtown Tax Increase Funding District to city officials at the May 4 meeting, along with several supporters who spoke in favor of increasing the donation.

“The way I would like to approach you today is to share with you that I am back involved with Gardiner,” said Patrick Wright.

Wright, the former Gardiner Main Street manager and city economic coordinator and former Johnson Hall board member, said he and his wife formed a property holding company and bought the building directly across the street. by Johnson Hall. They plan to invest more in this building and consider other opportunities at Gardiner.

“One of the things that has weighed in on our thinking is the incredible investment that all of the partners around the table have made in this awesome project,” Wright said. “I can speak for myself, but I understand the many others who have their eyes set on this community and I believe they will seek your leadership and commitment to help bring this project across the finish line very favorably. “

Cameron Fisher, who recently moved to Gardiner, said the revival of Johnson Hall helped in his decision, as did the city’s historic downtown.

“Having the arts at the center of a community really brings people together,” Fisher said.

Plans to renovate the oldest opera house in the state have been in the works for several years. At the heart of the plans, the reopening of the 400-seat theater on the top floor of the building. This will bring other changes to the building, including the addition of an elevator and green rooms for visitation acts, as well as a lobby, concession area and full-service ticket office.

The Studio Theatre, which seats approximately 120, hosted the regular season of Johnson Hall performances and is also due for an upgrade.

When the public phase of fundraising was announced in 2016, the cost was estimated at $4.3 million. In November 2021, this cost was estimated at $5.5 million, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, fundraising was on track to reach this amount, thanks to several large donations and federal grants. But as donations reached $5.5 million, the goal rose to $6.8 million.

Miclon said that after raising around $6.7 million, the goal has now moved closer to $8 million.

Months before the scheduled start of construction in April, it was clear that inflation, driven by the global coronavirus pandemic, would affect the final price of the project, but not by how much.

At the end of 2021, Ganneston Construction Corp. d’Augusta, Johnson Hall’s construction manager, noted that bids were submitted with disclaimers imposing a time limit due to price volatility.

Since then, inflation in the United States has reached levels not seen in four decades, affecting everything from the price of fuel and groceries to construction and manufacturing costs.

The Associated General Contractors of America Inc., based in Arlington, Va., and the leading association for the construction industry, noted that some prices related to non-residential construction rose about 20% between June 2020. and June 2021.

Those increases, according to AGC’s 2022 Construction Inflation Alert report, include prices for lumber, steel, drywall, transportation, fuel and tires.

Gardiner officials have pledged to donate $150,000 from unrestricted funds to Johnson Hall for the renovation project.

As a non-profit organization, Johnson Hall does not pay property tax. As part of its financial package, however, the theater must be owned by a for-profit entity for a specified period, and during that five-year period, the upgraded building will generate property tax.

Johnson Hall, which regularly draws people from across the state and area during its performance season, receives $25,000 a year from the city of Gardiner to support its operations. These funds come from revenue generated in the city’s downtown TIF district.

State Representative Thom Harnett, former mayor of Gardiner, was unable to attend the May 4 meeting but was one of half a dozen people to send a memo to the city council.

Harnett acknowledged the responsibility of Gardiner officials in making decisions about managing the city’s resources.

“I believe our decision to invest in this project in March 2017 was the right thing to do,” Harnett wrote, “and I believe that making the decision to support this additional investment to complete this bold economic development project community is still the right thing to do today.

Gardiner officials have also agreed to support another important project currently underway. The city council has agreed to donate $500,000 to Boys and Girls Clubs of Kennebec Valley, which is building a $10 million facility to replace the decades-old Pray Street School, which has housed the club for approximately two decades. It should be completed later this year.

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