March 3, 2013

Gannett House may return to family and become a museum

The house would become a First Amendment museum highlighting freedom of the press.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA - A 102-year-old home once owned by Maine newspaper publisher Guy Gannett could soon be back in family hands now that the state has signaled a willingness to sell the property, which was used for decades as office space.

click image to enlarge

State officials are willing to sell the Gannett House in Augusta to the newspaper publisher’s family.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

The Mediterranean Revival home on State Street next to the Blaine House would become a modern First Amendment museum that would highlight the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, as well as chronicle the history of the Guy Gannett family in Maine's media industry, according to the Gannett House Project.

The project, which has been in the works for more than three years, has been stalled as the state tried to negotiate a lease on the property with the project coordinators.

Initially, the state wanted to maintain control of the home because of its proximity to the governor's mansion.

Just last week, however, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, got special permission from legislative leaders to submit a new bill to allow the state to sell the house to the family for fair market value.

Because the property has been owned by the state since 1973 -- and therefore exempt from the city's tax rolls -- there is no accurate assessment data available for the property, according to the city assessor's office.

Katz said the interior needs an estimated $1 million in work, which the foundation is prepared to take on as it renovates the space for use as a museum.

"It's a very exciting project for the Capitol complex and the city of Augusta," said Katz, a former Augusta mayor who is the Senate's assistant minority leader. "It's another attraction to draw visitors to Augusta. It will be a very unique museum."

Genie Gannett, granddaughter of Guy Gannett and a leader of the project, has compared the idea to the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

Built in 1911, the home was a wedding gift from William H. Gannett to his son, Guy. At the time, it was described as Augusta's most progressive home because of its architectural design and "numerous mechanical conveniences," according to the National Register of Historic Places.

Guy Gannett and his family lived in the home for about 10 years before moving to Portland when the publishing company he founded with his father purchased the Portland Press Herald.

The Gannett Publishing Co. also owned the Waterville Sentinel, The Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram, The Portland Evening Express and the Daily Kennebec Journal. They later expanded to broadcast media but sold the company in 1998.

The home was owned privately for several years until the state acquired it in 1973 and turned it into office space.

The state vacated the building in 2010 when it moved the State Planning Office down the street. It has been vacant since then.

Once Katz's bill has been printed, it will be referred to the Legislature's State and Local Government Committee for consideration.

Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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