An architectural sketch of the proposed new Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland features a reflective metal and glass exterior shell, a tree-lined courtyard and more than 5,000 square feet of exhibition space on a single floor.

As proposed, the center would be constructed at 21 Winter St., just off Rockland’s Main Street, enhancing the city’s reputation as a midcoast magnet for arts and culture.

Suzette McAvoy, CMCA’s director, said she hopes to formally present plans for the new building to Rockland officials as soon as December.

The arts center opened in Rockport in 1952, and is Maine’s leading gallery for contemporary art. In May, McAvoy and board president Marilyn Moss Rockefeller of Camden announced plans for a $4 million capital campaign to relocate seven miles south to Rockland in 2015. At the time, it intended to purchase and renovate an existing building at 21 Winter St., but McAvoy said CMCA now intends to take down that building, which is home to several art galleries, and erect a new structure.

“The advice that we are getting is that it would be more cost-efficient and more time-efficient to take down what is there and build on slab using the foundation that is already there,” she said.

Arts leaders, Main Street boosters and town officials said they welcome CMCA’s proposed move to Rockland.

“We’re glad to have them as neighbors,” said Christopher Brownawell, executive director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, which is just a block from CMCA’s proposed new home. “I’m very positive and supportive of this. CMCA does a great job, and it will concentrate the arts activity in Rockland. We’ve been gravitating toward that for some time, with all the commercial galleries and restaurants that we have in town already. Rockland is the center of the cultural community, and this enhances that reputation.”

Lorain Francis, director of Rockland Main Street, said CMCA’s move represents the latest significant arts development in the coastal city in the last decade.

With the Farnsworth as anchor, the city’s arts scene has benefited from the renovation and revitalization of the Strand Theatre and the evolution of the Island Institute as an exhibition space.

Many art galleries and restaurants have opened downtown, creating economic diversity and cultural vitality that appeal to both residents and visitors, she said.

CMCA will add to the vitality and make Rockland more appealing, she said.

“I think what’s noteworthy is that we are (a) four-season arts community. This is not something that we are talking about as a summer activity for tourists. We do not roll up our sidewalks as a seasonal community, and that is important to Main Street merchants,” Francis said. “If your downtown is vibrant, your whole community is healthy.”

McAvoy said CMCA is about halfway to its $4 million fundraising goal, which will pay for the purchase of the existing building on Winter Street, the construction of a new building, architectural fees, legal fees and related costs.

The purchase price is $700,000 and the construction cost is estimated at $2.5 million, she said.

CMCA will launch the public phase of the fundraising campaign early in 2014, she said.

CMCA hired New York-based architect Toshiko Mori to design the new building. She has an international reputation, and is familiar with Maine. She and her husband, the artist James Carpenter, own a house in the area, and she helped design the interior spaces of the Farnsworth. McAvoy worked previously at the Farnsworth, and consulted with Mori on that project.

McAvoy said Mori is working on final plans for the building, which she hopes to present to Rockland officials soon. The planning board meets the first Tuesday of each month, said Rockland’s codes enforcement officer, John Root. As of Wednesday, Root had not received an application from CMCA. Until that happens, he said he could not comment on the art center’s plans.

As currently envisioned, the new building will have about 11,000 square feet, of which half will be used as exhibition space. The proposed building will have two galleries, one with 4,400 square feet of exhibition space and a 17-foot ceiling. A second will have 820 square feet with a 12-foot ceiling. That represents an additional 1,200 square feet more than CMCA currently has available in Rockport.

In addition, the new building will have an open-air courtyard facing the street, with about 2,280 square feet.

CMCA does not yet own the existing building at 21 Winter St. It had planned to complete the purchase in March 2014, but the closing date has moved up to January, McAvoy said. “We now hope to be in the construction phase as soon as March,” she added.

McAvoy has presented the plan to arts leaders in Rockland to gauge reaction. So far, so good, she said.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” she said, noting that CMCA nearly closed three years ago because of financial woes. “It’s hard to believe we’ve had this big a turnaround in so little time. Everyone is over-the-top excited about it. We are so thrilled to see CMCA have this opportunity, and so excited for the arts in Maine. We all feel this will be a game-changer for contemporary art in Maine.”

CMCA is a noncollecting institution, meaning it does not have a permanent collection of art. It exhibits a range of contemporary artists, focusing on artists from or with ties to Maine. It attracts about 10,000 visitors annually, but expects that number will increase significantly with the move to Rockland.

The Farnsworth has about 100,000 visitors annually.

Rockland City Manager James Smith said the CMCA’s move will help Rockland further diversify its economy. It is a traditional working-waterfront town that has adapted to changing times and trends by incorporating other industries into its economic mix. The arts are part of that diversification.

“We’re glad to have them,” he said. “They will be another anchor, along with the Farnsworth, for the arts community and our arts economy.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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