Manager to work with parties on old town lease

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — The lease renewal of the historic old town hall drew a crowd of people passionately representing two groups.

The lease of the larger of two town-owned brick buildings was scheduled for renewal at the beginning of 2019. The old town hall is located on the hill above Route 302 on the Village Green. It is visible from the road.

The Maine Blues Festival had been renting the building, paying $100 a month plus heat and electricity. In addition, festival organizers and volunteers did various repairs to the building, which had been vacant for a while.

The Naples Board of Selectmen had tabled the lease renegotiation during its January meeting after learning the Brenda Leo, the director of the information and tourism center, wanted to use the building which has the Maine Blues Festival has been leasing.

On Monday, the selectmen heard an earful from people who backed the town’s tourism and information center moving into the building while others wanted to see the Maine Blues Festival continue to use the building.

At some points, it was a matter of he said/she said, especially regarding what happened when the director of the tourism center and the organizers of Bluesfest tried to share the facility this past summer.

Supporters of the tourism center as well as those people who spoke on the behalf of the Bluesfest argued how each promoted tourism in town. Both groups talked about the possibility of more growth if given the proper place to do so.  

In the end, Naples Chairman Jim Grattelo handed the reins over to Naples Town Manager John Hawley who will meet with the involved parties and find a suitable solution to recommend to the selectmen. Also, Hawley will look into why the information and tourism center moved from its space in the Naples Museum and Historical Society.

So, the lease renewal was tabled for a second time.

This was after nine people spoke on the matter during public participation. Bluesfest cofounder Kevin Kimball expressed his viewpoint when the item came up on the agenda.

“The building had been neglected for years if not decades, and it showed. Whatever criticism one may have of its current condition, all I can say is you should have seen it when we walked in for the first time. In hindsight, we should have taken pictures,” Kimball said. “That said we were proud of our new home.”

“Dozens of volunteers turned out over the weeks and months to donate time, dedication, sweat and elbow grease to deep clean and paint the building from ceiling to floors. We repainted the exterior window sills which by that time had been worn to bare exposed wood. We paid for repairs to the plumbing and maintenance to the furnace. And, we have made a good start on reglazing the windows,”

The old town hall gave the festival organizers a place to meet, a central place to store sound equipment that came in handy when equipment failed at two venues during last year’s Bluesfest, he said. Also, the building was a place to house the Bluesfest Museum.

Kimball expressed concerns about the future of the music festival if lease is not renewed.  

“What I do know is that we literally have no other options at present, nor are likely to. If after all the effort that we have put into this over the past 13 years, we are forced to shut down and vacate, it will be catastrophic. There is no reasonable way we can find other accommodations, move everything we own, set up shop anew and concurrently plan and execute the Maine Blues Festival. It won’t be physically possible, that is what is at stake,” he said.

Chairman Grattelo spoke about the board’s role in this decision.

“The issue we are struggling with is: This is public building. We need to maximize its use. We have a public building. We have a public need for a visitors’ center,” he said.

“It makes no sense to have a historical public building for storage and a handful of meetings. Don’t get me wrong — I am one of the biggest supporters of the Bluesfest. At the same time, we are in charge of the public buildings,” Grattelo said.

Kimball said, “Why don’t we just share?”

Grattelo responded quickly.

“Based on her speech and your speech, a divorce lawyer” is what is needed, he said.

Kimball said he was willing to compromise, saying, “the offer still stands.”

At the beginning of the meeting, many people came to the podium on Leo’s behalf.

“I think she needs to go into that bigger building. I’ve been in that small building. There is no running water in the building. She cannot wash her hands,” resident Priscilla Kyle said.

“It is not a very good-looking building for people coming off the road, to learn about Naples. We need something for them to come back and say that was a good experience,” Kyle said.

Kim Merrill, one of the people who spoke, began with, “Tourism is huge in Naples.

If the information center was in the old town hall, it could better cater to summer residents, it would be more accessible, and the building would be a welcoming place for people to stop in, grab brochures or sit down and ask questions, she said.

“It makes sense to have Brenda there,” Merrill said.

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