April 21, 2013

Panel could clear the way for sale of Gannett House

The house could become a museum dedicated to the First Amendment and the rights it guarantees.

By SUSAN M. COVER Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA - Genie Gannett wants to add a new tourist attraction to the Capitol complex that will fit in nicely with the State House, Blaine House and Maine State Museum.

As she envisions it, visitors would spend time at a new museum dedicated to the First Amendment and the rights it affords - freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right to assemble peacefully and the right to petition the government.

The museum would be inside the Gannett House at 184 State St., the 1911 home that was a wedding gift from William H. Gannett to his son Guy, who would go on to build a successful media company in Maine.

"The proximity to the seat of state government enhances what the First Amendment is about and the freedom of the press," Genie Gannett said in a recent interview.

Before the project can move forward, however, Gannett needs approval from a legislative panel to clear the way for the state to sell the house to the Gannett House Project. Legislators on the State and Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. Monday to take testimony on a bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. L.D. 1378 requires the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services to sell the house "as is" at current market value to the Gannett House Project for use as a museum.

If the museum were to decide to sell the property later, it first would be required to offer it back to the state at current market value.

The house has been owned by the state since 1973 and was vacated in 2010 when the State Planning Office moved down the street. There is no current city assessment available for the property because it has been tax-exempt for 40 years. A group hired to assess the property's condition estimates it will need about $1 million in interior and exterior work before it could be used as a museum.

The State and Local Government Committee recently rejected a bill that called for the state to sell two houses on the former Augusta Mental Health Institute campus to a single buyer without going out to bid. Katz hopes they will see this bill in a different light.

"The Gannett family is presenting us with a marvelous opportunity to enhance our capital city," he said. "The location of a First Amendment museum near the Capitol and next to the Blaine House is a great fit."

Guy Gannett, Genie Gannett's grandfather, lived in the home with his family for about 10 years before moving to Portland. The Gannett Publishing Co. owned the Portland Press Herald, the Waterville Sentinel (now the Morning Sentinel), the Portland (now Maine) Sunday Telegram, the Portland Evening Express and the Daily Kennebec Journal. They later expanded to broadcast media but sold the company in 1998.

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

scover@mainetoday.com

 

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