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.

46 Lisbon Street, Lewiston

The building at 46 Lisbon Street has been an iconic presence in downtown Lewiston since 1895. Best known as the home of Grant’s Clothing for nearly 60 years, the building was purchased by Terry’s Bridal in 1985—the same year 46 Lisbon was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The owner, Kevin Morin, had two goals for the project. First was the desire to be an active participant in the ongoing resurgence of downtown Lewiston. The second was to rehabilitate a significant building in a way that respected the history of the space while also introducing elements of modernity. Floor plans were changed minimally. Doors, interior windows, and openings were preserved, and the original wood floors were sanded and refinished.  Entirely new electrical, plumbing, heating, and communications systems were seamlessly integrated into the historic fabric.

Despite these large-scale enhancements, it was the attention to small details that lent this project its defining character. Gas powered brass light fixtures found in the basement were restored, and historic doors that had been removed were repurposed as sliding barn doors. Original wavy glass still present in the historic windows was retained; a large metal skylight was preserved and reopened. A huge wood and glass display box that had been sitting on the third floor unused for decades was repurposed as a dramatic chandelier above the third -floor kitchen. It’s also crucial to the integrity of the interiors that the owners maintained the intricate wood trim and doors, most of which were original and in excellent condition.

The project’s success is due to collaboration and a shared sense of mission among several partners.  The City of Lewiston played an integral part in making the project a reality – both with financial support and by connecting the owners with other organizations. Coastal Enterprises, Inc. and Maine Preservation also played essential roles by providing guidance, historic insight, depth of experience, and in the case of CEI, financial investment. What was once a vacant, neglected and vulnerable building is now a fully rehabilitated, exquisitely designed and constructed landmark in downtown Lewiston. The project is a fine example of small-scale redevelopment, and of what can be achieved with collaboration and vision.