Wiscasset selectmen

MAG lease talks roll on

Fri, 04/22/2022 - 8:45am

Hours after Wiscasset selectmen got proposed changes to Maine Art Gallery’s would-be 20-year lease of the former Wiscasset Academy, the board put off voting on it. Some members said they needed time to review the document again with its proposed new parts, and they want the town’s legal counsel to, also. Town Manager Dennis Simmons said that could happen in time for the board’s May 3 meeting.

MAG Gallery Consultant Kerry Hadley had hoped for a vote April 19. So did others from the gallery, which, they noted, has had shorter leases on the building for six decades. Hadley recalled seeking the 20-year lease nearly a year ago to help get grants; voters authorizing it in November; and her expecting a lease would be set by January. She said she has told grant foundations, the details are being worked out.

“So, remember who you’re listening to here. There was a vote, and it was positive for us ... It just feels awful to keep this going and going.”

Chair Sarah Whitfield was ready to vote, until 11 a.m. when the new version came via email. She supports the partnership but wants the make sure the lease gets done right, she said.

Member Pam Dunning said she was not willing to decide a 20-year lease after five minutes’ look. “I’m going to go home and read the whole thing from start to finish again, from scratch so I have it all fresh in my mind.”

In 10 years, MAG has put $50,000 in gallery and grant money into the building, Hadley told selectmen. She called the nonprofit a group “that is really making a lively, interesting and educational non-profit center in the town.”

MAG board member Richard Riese explained the proposed paring of “at (MAG’s) own cost” from a section that states MAG, not the town, will provide the “water, gas, electricity, heat, janitorial, landscaping, snow and ice removal (and) garbage removal.”

“We did not want to be hamstrung by the words ‘at their own cost,’ when we give so much in kind,” Riese told selectmen.

Resident James Kochan had concerns, including about giving MAG credit on the rent for alterations. Those can run contrary to preservation, and over the years other people may be involved, so the lease needs to protect the town’s interests and properly guide the partnership, Kochan argued. “The money should be put toward real preservation ...”

“We would never do anything that wouldn’t be the right thing for the building,” Hadley said. The gallery consults with state and national agencies, she said.

The gallery proposed adding a right of first refusal to buy the property if the town gets an offer on it. Selectman Dusty Jones called that reasonable. And Selectman Terry Heller called it normal. She questioned the need to pay the town’s lawyer for another look at the deal.

Also April 19, the board nodded a liquor license for Wiscasset Farmers Market and pier vendor permits for Sprague’s Lobster, IndustrialME, LLC, Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce, The Potter’s Shed, Wiscasset, Waterville &Farmington Railway Museum and The River Shack; named Richard Litz to the broadband committee and reappointed Mark Light, Steve Christiansen and Becky Applin to the cemetery committee; sent back proposed pier policy changes to the waterfront committee to look at permit fees; and sent onto the ordinance review committee proposed changes to port and harbor rules. The town is looking at requiring mooring inspections every three years, at owners’ expense, and making mooring permits with a year’s unpaid fees be subject to pulling.