BIDDEFORD — Since the Renys department store left five years ago for a larger space in Saco, its Main Street storefront has remained quiet and vacant.

That will soon change.

In a move that Tammy Ackerman, executive director of Engine, called “remarkably generous,” the Reny family is donating the building to the nonprofit arts organization.

Engine hopes to turn the 19,000-square-foot space into a hub for the arts in downtown Biddeford. Since the organization was founded in 2010, Ackerman said, its goal has been to have a tangible presence downtown.

“An arts organization should be visible. It adds ambiance to downtown,” she said, and the building at 129 Main St. happens to be a central point for business downtown.

About two dozen people turned out for a press conference announcing the building’s donation Wednesday afternoon. As they toured the three-story building, many remarked on its unique features — including a small theater on the third floor.

The second and third floors were used mostly for storage during the 25 years the department store occupied the building.

The building has a rich history. It provided space for a pharmacy and even small vaudeville acts that rolled through town.

“If there’s a way to keep (this space), I’d like to do that,” Ackerman said, standing near the small stage.

Engine plans to take over the space before January. It will use money from a $50,000 grant from the Maine Arts Commission to help in the planning process and for a feasibility study by a local architect, Caleb Johnson, and the development firm Thread.

Donna McNeil, executive director of the arts commission, said the donation of the building is a big step forward for Engine and the city, which she said is undergoing a “renaissance” of sorts.

“Renys’ gift will add a real jewel in the crown in Biddeford,” McNeil said. “This could be the next coolest place in Maine.”

Bob Reny, whose father, Biddeford native R.H. Reny, founded the department store chain in 1949, said there have been many prospective buyers for the building. He thinks his father would be proud of the decision to donate the building.

“The Biddeford store was Dad’s pride and joy,” Reny said. “He would have wanted this building to become something special.”

The renovation of the building will be funded by additional grants and private donations, Ackerman said. While plans are developed, she hopes community members will visit the organization’s website, feedtheengine.org, to contribute ideas for the space.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]