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May 17, 2018

Two Maine projects to share $2.5M in USDA Community Facilities loans

Photo / Maureen Milliken
Photo / Maureen Milliken
Upgrade of the amphitheater at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts will get a boost with an $1.8 million USDA Community Facilities Grant.

Two Maine recipients are among the 50 rural projects that received $243 million in Community Facilities Direct Loans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.

The town of Mechanic Falls and the New England Music Camp Association in Sidney will share more than $2.5 million.

The New England Music Camp Association, which is part of the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, will get $1,846,000 to help with the upgrade to the Bowl in the Pines amphitheater, part of a major upgrade the 88-year-old venue is undergoing.

Mechanics Falls will get $724,000 to buy a building for its municipal offices.

More than 100 types of projects are eligible for the rural facilities funding, including schools, health care centers, libraries and infrastructure improvements. Eligible applicants include municipalities, public bodies, nonprofit organizations and federally and state-recognized tribes, according to the USDA.

Loan amounts have ranged from $10,000 to $165 million, with a goal of boosting economic development in rural areas.

Upgrading a historic amphitheater

Snow Pond Center for the Arts announced earlier this year it's doing an upgrade to the historic amphitheater that is expected to be an economic boon for the Belgrade Lakes region.

The nonprofit organization will detail soon how the loan fits into its plans, said Christa Johnson, director of development.

"Snow Pond Center for the Arts is incredibly grateful to the USDA for this opportunity and we look forward to sharing all the details shortly," Johnson said.

The USDA loan document said the amphitheater is "slowing sliding into" Messalonskee Lake and the money will be used for the foundation, seating, concessions, bathrooms and helping to make it handicapped-accessible. But the organization's upgrade goes a lot farther than that.

The outdoor amphitheater, surrounded by pines on Route 23, was the biggest on the East Coast when it was built in 1930, and it's still considered one of the country's largest outdoor music venues, school officials said.

The upgrade will increase seating from 2,000 to 6,000, add electricity, lighting and other infrastructure and extend the stage area, among other things. The organization expects it to be an economic boon for the area, and eventually provide an economic boost of $300,000 per event to the area.

It has traditionally been the venue for free New England Music Camp concerts and still will be, officials said earlier this year, but it also plans to bring in an eclectic roster of acts.

In September, for instance, the Beatles tribute band Fab Four will play, the biggest act the venue has hosted based on audience scope, Johnson said.

Funding for a new town office

The Mechanic Falls building purchase will allow town functions to move out of a 90-year-old former high school.

The building does not meet the community's needs, has unsafe and unsanitary conditions and is inaccessible to people with disabilities, according to the USDA.

The renovated former medical office at 22 Pleasant St. the town plans to buy will house the town office, police department, town library and a community gathering space.

Residents in November approved buying the building in a referendum vote.

Aside from the two Maine projects, Tuesday's announcement included projects in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

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