Stuart and Marianne Smith, together with the town of Camden, intend to apply for a $400,000 grant from Communities for Maine’s Future to help renovate the Bay View Street Garage, a large brick block on Bay View Street, which was the former home to Bayview Cinema.

The property is at 16 Bay View St. in Camden, and was once home to a three-story car showroom and garage, where the vehicles of summer people were stored for the winter. It is now occupied, in part, by Peter Ott’s Restaurant and a retail store.

But the Smiths envision it to once again become home to film screenings in Camden and want to build on the second story an active cinema and small venue for occasional meetings and conferences. Plans for the $1.2 million project include creating two theater spaces on the second floor where formerly there has been one.

“Hopefully, it will become a focal point and draw people into Camden,” said Stuart Smith at a June 13 meeting of the Camden Economic and Development Advisory Committee. He described the proposal to CEDAC members, who in turn voted to endorse it, recommending the grant application move forward with the Select Board.

Smith told CEDAC that he has absorbed a lot of knowledge about the movie business over the past few months, and learned that niche, boutique movie theaters can be successful. He hopes to be serving refreshments and alcohol to the moviegoers while they enjoy the films, which could, he said, include first-run movies.

According to the letter of intent to apply for funding, submitted to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development by the town of Camden on May 19, applying on behalf of Old Garage LLC, the plan for the building includes renovating the cinema space on the second floor to accommodate two smaller theaters, one with 75 to 85 seats, the other with 50, and both outfitted with new equipment and two-way broadcasting.

The Office of Community Development, within the DECD, subsequently told the town on June 1 that the town had met initial requirements and is now eligible to submit a full application for funding.

The project as outlined in documents submitted to the state said the proposed theaters are to have seating that can be moved so that the space can be used for other events, such as meetings or conferences. The first floor, which is at street level, is partially occupied by the restaurant Peter Ott’s, but the remaining space will be remodeled to provide an area for elevators and be used as a box office for the theater, as well as general office space.

The letter said the existing cinema space needs significant improvements. If approved, the grant money would be designated toward installing an elevator and creating handicap-accessibility infrastructure, $150,000; exterior and facade preservation, $60,000; and theater seating and equipment, $190,000. A time line includes potentially finishing permitting and planning work by the end of the summer, beginning interior renovations in the fall, outside facade work in March, and completing the project by next May.

“It will be first-class, with very comfortable, high-end seats,” he said.

Smith told CEDAC he hopes to incorporate the Camden International Film Festival into the theater’s success, and that the Garage becomes a community project that provides a real function for the downtown. He said the former Bayview Cinema “used to be quite a draw for downtown, with spill-off for area restaurants.” There is not much recreation in Camden in the evenings and the intention is that the theater will add more dimension to available entertainment.

“The town of Camden is home to many noteworthy conferences and events, such as the Camden Conference, PopTech and the Camden International Film Festival,” the letter said. “By rehabilitating this building, it will provide a venue for these economic drivers to flourish even more and support the many businesses already located in the downtown.”

The letter also said that no other theater exists in Camden.

Negotiations are under way to establish a museum of historical artifacts on the first floor (street level) that would be open to the public. The ground floor where formerly the Gilberts Publick House bar was located would be renovated for food service, and for storage.

The restrooms in the building would be relocated for easier access. The building would also be equipped with energy efficient heating and cooling systems, and there are plans to use rooftop solar panels for heating water. According to the letter of intent, the project would address Camden’s current lack of a theater, and help draw more attention to the Bay View Street area of downtown, continuing the revitalization of downtown as a whole.

The Smiths have overseen several renovations in the Knox County area over the past 35 years, according to the document. Their projects have included the Breakwater Marketplace in Rockland and the renovation and expansion of Bay View Landing on Camden Harbor. They are currently renovating and reopening a restaurant, Fresh, on Bay View Landing. Stuart Smith has lived in Camden since 1973; his wife, Marianne, has been a resident since 1968.

The project plan for the Bay View Street Garage, submitted as part of the letter of intent, has met all the requirements set by the DECD. Camden, with the Smiths as sub-grantees, is now eligible to submit a final application for the CFMF grant money. The CFMF fund is part of a larger bond initiative that was approved by Maine voters on June 8, 2010.

According to the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, $3.5 million has been allocated to the CFMF program to provide funding for projects to revitalize Maine downtowns, collaborate with private sector and nonprofit partners, and preserve historical areas. According to the letter of intent, talks are under way with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission regarding the Garage.

The 2010 statewide referendum designated funds from a $23.7 million bond issue to provide capital investment to stimulate economic development and job creation by making investments under the Communities for Maine’s Future Program and in historic properties.

“I am excited about this opportunity because the project is able to be implemented in a relatively short timeframe, and the town will not be expending funds,” said Brian Hodges, Camden’s economic development director. “It provides a downtown cinema, which will draw people to that section of downtown, provides an activity that is known to attract a younger crowd, rehabs a mostly vacant building therefore utilizing existing properties including a second floor, supports the creative economy, and employs green building concepts.”

Lynda Clancy contributed to this story.

Rachel Thomas can be reached at 236-8511; rthomas@villagesoup.com.