Sunday, December 8, 2013
By MATT HONGOLTZ-HETLING Morning Sentinel
SIDNEY – Drivers who use Pond Road may wonder about the construction at the New England Music Camp.
The hole in the ground, which will become the foundation for an addition to the camp's Alumni Hall, is just the beginning of a five-year plan that John Wiggin hopes will transform the location into a major player, in central Maine's arts scene and the local economy.
The plan, which the third-generation camp owner hopes to finance with a $12 million fundraising effort, is centered around a 40,000-square-foot arts-and-education complex that will host year-round performances, conferences and retreats, and classes that could include programming as a charter school.
Wiggin's grandfather bought the 40-acre camp on the shore of Messalonskee Lake in 1937. It has remained in the family since then, with Wiggin taking over in 2009.
While the fundraising won't launch officially until 2013, Wiggin said he has been working on the growth plan since last year.
"The first phase is really going out to the community, because at the end of the day, the community is the biggest benefactor," he said.
Wiggin has spent the last nine months meeting with town officials, state legislators, school superintendents, chambers of commerce and college officials.
"What I didn't want to do was go to our donors without good stakeholder support," he said. "If a foundation, a trustee or someone doing due diligence on us went to any member of the community, there's a pretty good chance that they would know about the project and would have an opinion about it."
One potential benefit to the area's economy would be the expanded camp's potential to capture dollars that are being diverted to conference centers along Maine's coast. Wiggin said that, in meeting with the Maine Arts Commission in Augusta, he heard a sentiment that the region lacks facilities for conferences and retreats held by government and nonprofit groups.
"There's no place in central Maine to have meetings," Wiggin said. "They all go to the coast."
Wiggin said the new building, with seven or eight classrooms, a conference room and a 3,500-square-foot lobby, will take the camp's ability to host events to a new level.
While Wiggin expects the fundraising to last into 2015, he plans to begin construction on the complex much sooner, breaking ground in the fall of 2013.
Added conference revenue, coupled with the capacity to host students year-round, would allow the camp's annual revenue, currently about $1.5 million, to triple, Wiggin estimated.
He said the camp has the potential to become a centerpiece for performance arts in Maine.
Wiggin envisions the camp attracting regional orchestras for youths and adults, as well as a music school that could host private teachers and students on everything from dance to creative writing in specialized studio spaces.
Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 861-9287 or at: