Biddeford School Department seeks use of former movie theater

Biddeford School Department seeks use of former movie theater
The Biddeford School Department is seeking approval to allow the use of the former Smitty's Cinema for vocational programs. SBN STAFF/Liz Gotthelf
Liz Gotthelf, Publisher

BIDDEFORD — The school department is seeking necessary city approval to use a former movie theater to expand its vocational school offerings.

The Biddeford School Department would like to expand the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology by utilizing the former Smitty’s Theater space at Five Points Shopping Center at 420 Alfred St. The proposal would redevelop the former movie theater into a second vocational campus that would be used for educational programs in fields that would include culinary arts, hospitality as well as personal care services, which encompasses training for salon technicians and massage therapists.

The Five Points Shopping Center is located in the I-3 Zone, an industrial zone that allows for a mixture of commercial and industrial uses, but does not permit schools. The School Department is seeking a zoning change from the city to allow the proposed school in this zone.

 

A proposed ordinance change to allow schools in the I-3 Zone was unanimously recommended by the planning board on July 7. City Planner Greg Tansley and Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy said in a memo to City Council that while the I-3 Zone implies industry, it is much more of a mixed use zone, minus residential use.

“Currently the I-3 Zone contains retail, restaurants, services, industry, an Ice Arena, the YMCA, and a significant amount of medical services,” said Eddy and Tansley in the memo.

The City Council, which has the final say on ordinance changes, had a preliminary discussion on the matter Tuesday. The council gave unanimous disapproval to the proposed ordinance change, and some said they favored a different approach to allow the school to operate at the Five Points Shopping Center.

Councilor Marc Lessard said while he approved of the vocational school campus in the former movie theater, he did not approve of a blanket change to allow schools in the I-3 zone.

 “What it does is open Pandora’s box,” he said.

Lessard said he would rather see a contract zone, which would be specific to this particular proposal, to allow the suggested school at the shopping center.

Councilor Amy Clearwater voiced a similar opinion.

“I’m not going to vote for this, but I love the project, and would vote for a contract zone,” said Clearwater.

Smitty's Cinema, which offers dine-in food options for patrons to enjoy while watching movies, closed its Biddeford theater in May 2020.

Publisher Liz Gotthelf can be reached at [email protected]