Out of the running: Narrow Gauge Museum selects Gray

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Directors of the Portland-based Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum voted Tuesday to explore options with the town of Gray, and not Bridgton, for relocating its historic rolling stock and museum.

Brian Durham, chairman of the museum’s relocation committee, phoned Bridgton Economic and Community Development Director Alan Manoian Wednesday morning with the news.

“He said they are proceeding with exploring options in Gray,” but added that “There are still a lot of issues to work out,” said Manoian, who likened the board’s choice to a typical development deal. “He said we’re putting Bridgton on the back burner, but we might be calling you back.”

Still, the news surely will come as a crushing disappointment to Return of the Rails founder Bill Shelley of Bridgton, who has spent thousands of dollars over the past decade to spark interest in bringing a Narrow Gauge presence to Bridgton.

The day before the vote, Shelley said, “If the Narrow Gauge board doesn’t see what we have here, then they don’t deserve us.”

Durham declined further comment to The News until he had a chance to inform all four competing communities, which also included Monson and Portland. He said that the board acted on the unanimous recommendation made by the relocation committee, and directed them to begin tailoring development of their business plan, which had been more general, to now cover only the town of Gray.

Bridgton stakeholders, who met over a month ago with Durham and another Narrow Gauge official, had been critical of the museum’s lack of a business plan, saying Bridgton couldn’t embrace the proposal without one. Manoian, at selectmens’ request, had submitted a request for proposal from the museum earlier this year to be part of the competition to become the host community.

Shelley, at a previous selectmen’s meeting, had criticized Manoian for not following up with museum officials after the RFP was in. Shelley said Gray’s Town Planner, George Thebarge, had been in regular phone contact with the museum.

Manoian, stung by the charge, said he called Thebarge and learned his follow-up calls were because Gray hadn’t yet chosen a specific site, which was the first requirement of the RFP. Bridgton’s proposal was complete, offering extensive details on its proposal to site the museum on Depot Street where the Memorial School now stands. The site is the original location of the Narrow Gauge terminal when it operated as part of the old Bridgton and Saco Railroad.

Monson, a tiny town near Dover-Foxcroft, was the only other community among the four contenders where the Narrow Gauge Railroad once ran. Having an authentic historic location was viewed as a huge plus to the museum in terms of raising money for the project through historic preservation grants.

Manoian quoted Durham as telling him, “This is not goodbye.” He said, “My gut feeling throughout this process is that Bridgton should still consider itself as a viable location for this development.”

Manoian said he wants to talk to residents to see if there’s still interest in following up the stakeholders’ forum with a second public forum on the Narrow Gauge plans.

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