Revised Plans for St. Lawrence Addition Reviewed by Historic Preservation Board for Second Time

Revised Plans for addition to St. Lawrence Arts Center Rejected by City Board

By Carol McCracken  (Post #1,288)

Despite significant changes in the design of a contemporary addition to the 19th century St. Lawrence Arts Center, the Historic Preservation Board once again critized the revised plans saying it remains too massive for the location.  David Lloyd, noted architect in the area,  presented a less boxy plan, but it still did not pass muster for the board at its meeting tonight.  Because the former Congregational Church on the Hill is a historic spot, it has to get approval from the HP Board.

In a January 7th letter to the Historic Preservation Program Manager, Deb Andrews, Lloyd, of Arachetype Architects, described the revisions as follows:  to reduce the theater mass, the number of seats has been reduced to  411; the height of the theater has been reduced by five feet; the building face on Cognress Street has been pushed back nine feet; the addition of a porch on Congress Street to create a welcoming element; the building face along Munjoy Street has been set back at an upper level; and finally, a pink granite element has been added at the base of the building and up sides of the building.  These modifications were made in response to objections by the Board late last year, although they did little to mollify them.

Board member Martha Burke said the building is still too tall and massive for her to support it.  The criticism of some Board members focused on the promenade room on the top of the building as well as the dominance of the elevator in the front of the sketches.  Board member Scott Benson said the promenade room is not artculated enough for his taste, unlike the bottom of the building. Diedre Nice, executive director and founder of the Center said that the church was always unique –  from its inception in the late 1800′s. There is only one other building like it in Maine; that is the exclusive Norumbega Inn in Camden, she said.  Burke persisted  that the proposed building “is not compatible with the neighborhood,” although others do support the overall plans.

A number of members of the public testified on both sides of the issue.   Chris Akerland, a theater lighting professional and a member of the board of the Friends of St. Lawrence Arts Center, said:  “I’ve been in many places where contrasts enliven the neighborhood. This theater would make the rest of the town look better…this is an opportunity to do something great in the neighborhood.”  Ross Fields, a Board member of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization,  said this proposed theater has quickly polarized the neighborhood.  He predicted that the movement against it will grow significantly resulting in a flood of communications to the Board.

For more background information, please see Posts # 1,233, dated 12/10/12, and # 1,230, dated 12/5/12.