A small brick building at the corner of Damariscotta’s Church and Vine streets has grown in size and moved to local ownership over the last three years, changes celebrated with a grand opening on Thursday, Sept. 28.
After untangling years of red tape, the Damariscotta Chamber of Commerce and Information Bureau celebrated and blessed its freshly renovated and expanded building, originally constructed in 1935.
“We did it,” Larry Sidelinger, president of the chamber’s board, said in his opening remarks welcoming attendees to the “glorious occasion.”
The parcel of land where the building sits went to the ownership of the state in 1935 following construction of Route 1. Representatives from the chamber and the town began working in 2020 to transfer ownership to Damariscotta, which has now leased the parcel to the chamber for 99 years.
John Roberts, president of the board when the project began, said red tape was the major cause of delays.
Board members of the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce and the Damariscotta Region Information Bureau voted to combine organizations and pursue restoration of the building, which once housed the bureau, in 2020.
The state was not able to find records of a lease for the parcel, according to Roberts, leading board members to travel to Augusta and meet with high-ranking officials of the Maine Department of Transportation. Ultimately, it took a governor’s deed to straighten the chain of ownership, Roberts said.
Fully renovated and expanded, the building opened to the public in mid-August. The chamber is in a final fundraising phase and will add a smart TV with job postings from local businesses and online trainings will be held in the conference room, Executive Director Lisa Hagen said.
“Everybody that walks in is like, ‘Wow, it looks so much larger, it’s amazing, it’s beautiful,’” she said.
Hagen will staff the building Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and is recruiting volunteers for other days.
In the final phase of fundraising, the chamber will sell sponsorships for parking spaces and trees. Landscaping designs will be developed in the spring, according to Hagen.
The building, which is the chamber’s first permanent location, has been brought back to service again with the renovation, Hagen said.
“It makes people proud,” she said. “It means a lot to the community.”
At the Sept. 28 celebration, the Rev. Bobby Ives read a blessing focused on the parts of the building, asking that its doors be welcoming, its windows let through the light of hospitality and friendship, and its brick walls remind visitors of the area’s history.
Contractor Paul Garber, of Paul Garber Residential Builders, who did the addition and the interior remodel, said the original structure was surprisingly well-built.
The building was constructed to house the bureau in 1935, which it did until closing due to low traffic in 2018, according to The Lincoln County News archives.
However, Sidelinger said the chamber prints 15,000 guides to the region each year and always runs short, and he thinks the combination of paper materials and online information at the new site will meet visitor needs.
“Paper’s not dead,” he said.
Sidelinger noted that some people like holding physical information and others don’t know where to look when researching the area online, two functions the centrally located bureau can provide. The expanded space will also hold professional events, members said.
Members of the chamber emphasized the many people involved in the project and called it a team effort. More than 200 individual donors have contributed so far, according to Sidelinger.
The first major donors were Abbie Roberts and the late Sam Roberts, former owners of the Lincoln County Publishing Co., which publishes The Lincoln County News. Sam Roberts was publisher of the newspaper and Abbie Roberts served as editor.
Abbie Roberts and her four children attended the grand opening and unveiled a special sign together.
“This project was a perfect fit for a family that has dedicated over 100 years towards capturing community news and preserving history,” John Roberts, their grandson, said before cutting the grand opening ribbon. “On behalf of the Roberts family, congratulations to the chamber on this amazing accomplishment. Use it well and honor its heritage.”
After the ribbon-cutting, visitors shared refreshments and took pictures by the new sign.
Sidelinger said the project was completed by putting one foot in front of another to get the project built by both local businesses and the chamber, which he believes have a partnership that benefits both.
“This is a whole new era for the chamber,” he said. “To me, the future is bright.”
The chamber is currently open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For more information, go to damariscottaregion.com or call 563-8340.