BAR HARBOR — The historic Criterion Theatre is under new ownership and set to undergo major renovations this winter.
The Bar Harbor Jazz Festival, led by restaurateur Michael Boland, bought the building on Friday for $1.2 million from former owner Erin Early, according to Boland. The purchase was made possible by a $2 million donation to the group from a summer resident who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, Boland said.
“The Bar Harbor Jazz Festival’s raison d’etre will be to operate the Criterion Theatre as the island’s performing arts center, with a focus on film,” Boland said. “We will still put on a jazz festival every summer and will now have the Criterion once again as our premier stage.”
The “extremely generous donation,” Boland said, enables the nonprofit Jazz Festival to own the theater outright, creates a small endowment and gives the group enough money to begin renovations. Current funds also will support the hiring of an executive director, the purchase of a digital projector and remediation of deep-seated mold issues in the building. The latter project is already underway. Total renovations, including $350,000 for new seats, are expected to cost approximately $1.35 million, leaving the group searching for additional donations.
“We hope to identify additional generous folks to get the vast majority of the renovation completed this winter, as opposed to in two or three stages,” Boland said.
The Bar Harbor Jazz Festival is a 501c3 organization founded by Boland in 2002. The board of directors of the group include Boland, as president, Bill Ferm, Shane Ellis and Richard Cleary.
Current plans are for the theater to be open year round. For half the year, the theater is slated to be open seven nights a week, and four to five nights a week for the other six months. The rough estimate at this time is to show movies 75 percent of the time.
“We will be featuring mostly movies in the summer but certainly look forward to a smattering of other offerings, including live music, theater, puppet shows, spoken word, dance, and anything else that seems like a good fit,” Boland said.
Boland is familiar with the theater, having owned it from 2001 until 2007. He said that his experience at that time showed him that the theater needed to be owned by a nonprofit organization in order to be viable.
“Even though we were very much focused on the community and its needs the first time around, at the end of the day, we were a for-profit venture,” he said. “After running it successfully for six years, we realized to take it to the next level, the entire property, including the real estate, building and theatre itself, needed to be in a not-for-profit. Now it is.”