Event center

Brick South, Portland

With the arrival of railroads in the 19th century, Portland became a booming transportation hub for people and freight. In 1886, the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad developed rail facilities at Thompson’s Point where the first railroad repair shops were constructed. Destroyed by fire just a few years later, a 25,000-square foot Machine Shop was rebuilt in 1904 and leased by Maine Central Railroad. During World War II, the government took over the property, and the building was used to store steel for Liberty Ships then under construction. Over the next 60 years, a series of owners proposed several development projects, but none ever got off the ground.

In 2009 Forefront Partners, purchased the property, undertaking the long process of transforming the one-time industrial site into Portland’s most dynamic new district. They re-named the old Maine Central Railroad Machine Shop Brick South. It’s one of just two buildings surviving from the railroad era.

Forefront Partners' goal was to transform the historic Machine Shop into a multi-use event venue, and to preserve the grand vistas and stately character of the space while adding the amenities essential for large, catered events. Care was taken during the development process to preserve the historic and architectural character of the building. Structural reinforcement, roof replacement and a new system of underground utility lines are just a few of the many improvements the machine shop required. In May 2017, the building became the first LEED Core and Shell Gold project in Portland.

Today, Brick South offers an experience unparalleled in southern Maine, celebrating Portland's rich history and serving as a versatile venue for weddings and trade shows, fundraisers and a variety of festivals. Last year, the Maine Flower Show brought over 16,000 visitors to the site over a three-day period and this fall the building was the site of Maine Preservation’s Annual Gala.

Brick South—a reminder of the city’s railroad heyday-- is on the fast track to becoming a star on the Portland Scene.  

Agora Grand Events Center & Inn at the Agora, Lewiston

Originally known as Kelsey Hall, the Italianate mansion on Walnut Street in Lewiston was designed and constructed in 1850 by Captain Albert Kelsey, a noted architect and Lewiston’s original city planner. Sixteen years later, Monsignor Thomas Wallace purchased the mansion for the Catholic Church, and in 1890 constructed St. Patrick’s Church on an adjacent plot. This enormous Neogothic sanctuary was designed by Patrick Keely, architect of Portland’s Cathedral, and his impressive plan features asymmetrical towers, one of which held the record for Maine’s tallest structure. Sadly, in 2009 the Portland Diocese closed the church, selling off most of the stained-glass windows as well as copper in the pipe organ, rendering it mute. Both the mansion and the sanctuary remained vacant until 2014 when Andrew Knight moved to Lewiston. He quickly fell in love with the property, purchased it and spent the next several years methodically rehabilitating both landmarks.

Structurally, the buildings were in good shape. Knight’s primary challenge was finding an appropriate use for them in this economically depressed part of Maine. Converting both structures to commercial use required extensive life safety updates (fire alarms, sprinklers, etc.) as well as new bathrooms, ADA accessibility, HVAC systems and upgrades for kitchen and liquor licensing. And then there was the stained-glass Rose Window; though intact, it called out for painstaking restoration and cleaning.   

Acting as General Contractor, Andrew spent most of 2015 transforming Kelsey Hall into a boutique hotel he christened the Inn at the Agora. Shortly thereafter, he began renovating and repurposing the church, which opened in April of 2016 as the Agora Grand Event Center. Appropriately, “agora” is the ancient Greek word for “gathering place.”

The revitalization of these landmarks, and the financial success of a luxury hotel and event center in downtown Lewiston has not only challenged assumptions about the economic viability of Maine’s second-largest city, but attracted potential new investors while insuring that two of Maine’s stunning witnesses to the past remain a lasting legacy for generations to come.