WATERVILLE – The Elm on College Avenue has closed as an event center, but the owner plans to lease the first floor to a local business that would employ 50 people there.
“I’m sorry to see the Elm close, but central Maine has so many great opportunities for events and live music,” building owner Bill Mitchell said Thursday.
Mitchell said he could not disclose the name of the company, but expects the lease to be signed in the next few weeks, at which time it will likely become public. The City Council Chambers and the First Congregational United Church of Christ would continue to lease space on the ground floor of the building, which also houses a closet for church supplies.
“There’s no change there,” Mitchell said of the ground floor space. “We are closing Elm only so that a large employer can locate their business on the first floor of 21 College Ave.”
Mitchell purchased the 11,000-square-foot building in 2017 and extensively renovated it. It previously housed the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5. The Elm opened in September 2019 and has hosted a variety of events, including comedy shows, live music and banquets, but was temporarily closed in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
About a year later, as other venues cautiously began to reopen, The Elm did the same, but due to the circumstances and fears surrounding COVID-19, management was challenging, according to Mitchell. Around that time, the company Mitchell is now negotiating with was looking for a large rental space to keep the company in Waterville, and Mitchell and the employer began discussing leasing the first floor.
“As the discussions became more serious, I made the decision to close The Elm to allow this business to move there,” Mitchell said.
A lifelong Waterville resident and businessman who owns GHM Insurance Agency on Main Street downtown, Mitchell has been involved in real estate development in the city for the past 22 years. He owns the office and retail buildings on Common Street in the city center and is part owner of the Proper Pig restaurant on that street. He also owns Penny Hill Park, a business park near Kennedy Memorial Drive, as well as other properties on that road. Mitchell was part of a group of business and city leaders who met with Colby College President David Greene several years ago to plan for downtown revitalization.
Located next to the U.S. Post Office on College Avenue, Elm has 160 parking spaces and access from the avenue and Front Street.
Mitchell has a personal connection to the building, built in the 1950s. After World War II, American Legions were built across the country and were popular gathering and event venues for veterans and non-veterans alike. The Legion on College Avenue held many events in the 1950s and 1960s with frequent performances by the Al Corey Band, a popular Waterville act. Mitchell’s father, the late Paul Mitchell, was a Navy veteran and he and his wife often attended dances and other events there.
Mitchell said that while The Elm will no longer host live events, there are plenty of places in the area to do so, including the Waterville Opera House, Snow Pond Center for the Arts in Sidney, Enchanted Gables in Oakland and the Waterville Elks Lodge.
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