PORTLAND — The St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center is seeking city permission to rebuild its sanctuary and create a 400-seat theater.

The arts center, which operates a 100-seat theater in its parish hall, must get a zoning change before it can proceed with plans to erect a new performing arts space on Munjoy Hill.

The new performance space, which has a $15 million price tag, would be complementary to the existing theater.

Joe Delaney, Friends of the St. Lawrence board president, said the arts center filed paperwork this week seeking conditional rezoning for the property at 76 Congress St., and he has begun meeting with the city planners to discuss the project.

The new theater would be built on the site of the 1897 church’s sanctuary, which was noted for its fanciful stone turrets. The structure was deemed unsafe in 2006, and two years later the organization that operates the arts center received grant money to disassemble the sanctuary stone by stone.

The site, at the west end of the St. Lawrence property, currently is fenced in and vacant.

Some of the material from the original structure would be used in the new building, and it would be designed with the original church’s Romanesque Queen Anne style in mind, Delaney said.

The plans to rebuild the sanctuary do not affect the 100-seat Parish Theater, which is home to Good Theater and other performing arts groups.

The new building, with up to 9,000 square feet, would be built on the vacant lot and would attach to the current lobby of the Parish Theater, said Deirdre Nice, the center’s executive and artistic director.

In this vision, the St. Lawrence would operate two separate theaters — one with 400 seats and the Parish Theater, which would be slightly expanded with an additional 25 or so seats.

The preliminary estimated price for the project is $15 million, said Julia Kirby, development director for St. Lawrence. The structure also would include community space, meeting rooms and more exhibition opportunities for visual artists.

The St. Lawrence board has been talking about the project for years. Those discussions have taken on an urgent tone in light of the structural failure of the sanctuary, Delaney said.

While the current economic climate may not be ideal for launching a fundraising campaign, the timing otherwise is good, he said. “It’s better to do it while the memory of the building is still strong,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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