Abyssinian Meeting House, Irish Heritage Center get development funding from Portland

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PORTLAND — The Abyssinian Meeting House on Munjoy Hill will get $122,000 through the city for a roof, foundation repairs and research of the spring running under the historic Newbury Street building.

Across town, the Maine Irish Heritage Center is getting $73,000 for an elevator so disabled visitors to the former church can easily access the main floor of the building.

Funding for both projects is a result of the city receiving more than $500,000 in additional Community Development Block Grant funds from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The City Council voted Monday night to fund the center and the meeting house, along with rehabilitation at Dougherty Field off of Douglass Street. 

The council approved moving some projects that were funded in the original CDBG process this spring into the CDBG-Recovery funding program. Those projects include sidewalk construction along Cumberland Avenue and Everett Street and lighting for the Bayside Trail. The Abyssinian project will also be funded with CDBG-R money.

The Irish Heritage Center elevator and the $376,000 Dougherty Field project replace the sidewalk and lighting projects. 

Because the additional funds are part of the federal stimulus fund, the government has strongly suggested that they be used for “shovel-ready” projects that promote job creation and economic development.

Amy Grommes Pulaski, who oversees CDBG funding for the city, said the city will submit its plan to the federal government at the end of the week. The city could be awarded funding by July, she said.

Vinny O’Malley, a board member of the Irish Heritage Center, attended Monday’s meeting and told councilors that the center has been busier in the past month than in the past five years. He said a man attending a concert at the center the previous weekend was in a wheelchair, and it was difficult to get him up to the main floor.

“It puts us in a difficult position if we want to utilize the building for the entire community,” O’Malley said.

Leonard Cummings of the Committee to Restore the Abyssinian Meeting House said his group’s proposed project fits the criteria the federal government was looking for because it is shovel-ready and will create jobs immediately.

Cummings said Tuesday morning he was thrilled the council voted to fund the roof project at the Abyssinian, which is the third oldest African-American meeting house in the country and a nationally recognized historic structure. 

The federal funding will allow the committee to begin the third phase of its restoration project, which includes exterior renovations. Cummings said they need about $200,000 to complete this phase before moving on to final interior restorations.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net