PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One of Presque Isle’s newest business ventures is banking on an idea from Peru and Jamaica to infuse new life into the downtown and bring a 90-year-old landmark into the 21st century.
Ignite Presque Isle, a nonprofit community development organization, acquired the historic Northeastland Hotel last year and has been renovating the building. The group looks toward a fall opening for a new restaurant and a business collaboration center.
The hotel is one of the latest projects the city of Presque Isle has supported toward its goal of revitalizing the downtown and making it more business and community friendly.
The idea is to modernize the hotel, add to the current staff of 22 and create spaces for business and community gathering, said Clint Deschene, Ignite PI’s director of community innovation.
“The social purpose of a hotel is to adapt to its community’s needs,” Deschene said. “We want to help others, and this will be the kick start.”
Ignite PI operates on a social enterprise model, which means making money but returning it to the community by creating jobs and doing something to improve the area. At the Northeastland, an entrepreneur space and new restaurant and bar will reap funds to be sown back into the community, and the group wants the revamped hotel to become the city hub it was decades ago when activities were centered downtown.
Ignite Presque Isle members’ research revealed that nonprofit hotels the Rock House in Jamaica and the Hotel Sol Y Luna in Peru operate this way, Ignite PI board member Angie Helton said. The Purpose Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, is exploring the option.
All of the revenue generated above expenses will be put into reserves and used to fund community partnerships, public programs and symposiums, Helton said. Any excess money will be allocated for other use via a resolution by the board.
One of the organization’s major goals has been to create a space for new businesses who may not have the capital to have their own sites, or who may be based in other areas. The Ignite PI Innovation Center will be a first for Aroostook County.
Designed for small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up shop via memberships, the center will have desk space, dedicated offices, conference and communication facilities. The membership levels range from $22.50 per day to private offices at $449 per month.
The group has three memberships, including one corporate enrollee, Helton said, and has fielded many calls from those interested in joining.
Taking the place of the Northeastland’s famed Red Room and Sidewalk Cafe will be Rodney’s at 436 Main, named by Ignite PI donor Mary Barton Smith in honor of her late husband, Rodney.
Director of Food and Beverage Rob Ottaviano is planning and designing the combination bar and eatery.
“This will be a gathering place, the ‘Cheers’ of the north,” Ottaviano said. “Everyone is welcome here. It will be a relaxed atmosphere.”
He plans to use local and Maine products as much as possible. Aroostook County has taken food production beyond potatoes, growing broccoli, micrograins, hops and a variety of other products, he said.
Ignite PI received funds from donors, including the Rodney and Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation, as well as a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant that the city of Presque Isle negotiated with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The group matched that amount via loans, donations and grants, including some from the Maine Community Foundation, Deschene said.
Ignite PI communicates closely with the city and its Code Enforcement Office on the renovations, said Galen Weibley, Presque Isle’s director of economic and community development. The city acts as the go-between for the block grant. Ignite PI submits invoices to the city, and the city requests funds on their behalf.
One of the unique aspects of the block grant funding is that a certain percentage of the jobs created must employ low- to moderate-income people. The nonprofit has to report to the city with an income survey, filled out by those employees, which Presque Isle officials will submit to the state, according to Weibley.
Ignite PI’s key players hope the revamped Northeastland will return Presque Isle’s Main Street to the hub of activity it was decades ago, with a few new twists.
“You have to change and make yourselves viable,” board member and Main Street business owner Cathy Beaulieu said. “There’s nothing more ideal than having a successful downtown.”