WATERVILLE — Longtime businessman Bill Mitchell has bought two historic buildings on Common Street downtown and is negotiating with a restaurateur to lease space in one.

Mitchell, owner of GHM Insurance Agency on nearby Main Street, bought the Masonic Building at 14-18 Common St., which houses Common Street Arts, a gallery and studio, as well as a photographer and other artists. He also bought the vacant building to the right of it, 20-24 Common St.

Mitchell hopes to lease space in the buildings to artists and other art-related ventures and develop rooms for professional offices.

Both buildings were at one time owned by Michael Nawfel, who practiced dentistry in one and leased space for offices. The buildings were later sold, fell into disrepair and were taken over by the bank.

“My hope is to bring these buildings back to the way that Dr. Nawfel ran them,” Mitchell said. “The Masonic Building is a beautiful building. It’s probably one of the nicer buildings downtown and looks over Castonguay Square.”

He said Nawfel “took very good care of them and took a lot of pride in his buildings and made them look very attractive.”

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Mitchell is negotiating with Jobi Culver, who previously owned and operated the Bread Box on Main Street, about providing space for a wood-fired brick-oven restaurant on the first floor of the four-story Masonic Building.

“Jobi hopes to open his new restaurant in early December,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s plans for rehabilitating the buildings coincide with a concerted effort by city leaders, business people, Colby College and downtown organizations to revitalize downtown and make it a center and destination for arts, culture and economic development.

Those people were part of a special committee headed by Colby President David Greene, and Mitchell was a member of that committee.

Colby bought two vacant downtown buildings that have fallen into disrepair, the Hains building at 173 Main St. and the former Levine’s clothing store building at 9 Main St. The college also is under contract to buy 16-20 Main St., a building that formerly housed a tattoo parlor and apartments and was the site of a fire in 2013 that rendered it uninhabitable.

Colby officials say they don’t have specific plans for the three buildings, but have discussed putting a hotel, retail businesses, living spaces and other types of businesses downtown.

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COLBY’S INVESTMENT PAYS OFF

Jennifer Olsen, executive director of Waterville Main Street, also was a committee member. She said the panel hoped that Colby’s investment in downtown would leverage further investment, and that is precisely what Mitchell has done.

Mitchell “has now chosen to step up to preserve (a) historic building that, frankly, is very important to our downtown’s look and feel,” Olsen said Wednesday.

Colby was right to pull in local leaders to meet and discuss what the community needed and how it would receive the information, she said.

“I think that this is a very important moment for Waterville, and personally and professionally I’m grateful to be part of this process. And there will be lots of opportunities for growth for longtime residents as well as for those who might choose to locate here. It’s a good day.”

Kimberly Lindlof, president of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, also was on the committee. Lindlof said Wednesday that Mitchell always has been a proponent of the city and has made investments in real estate properties here.

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“We’re pleased to have Billy’s continued investment in Waterville and his renewed focus on investing in downtown properties,” Lindlof said. “It’s only going to add to the revitalization the city is leading with investment from Colby and other downtown developers.”

On Tuesday night, the City Council approved the sale of another vacant downtown building at 10 Temple Court to three artists, Cheryl Cayer, Janis Lazarian and Frank Della Famina, who plan to develop studios and living space there.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]


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