PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Nonprofit organization Ignite Presque Isle is gearing up to open its Business Innovation Center next month in the renovated Northeastland Hotel. The business incubator has already opened a restaurant in the space, Rodney’s at 436 Main, which is offering dinner service.
More than $7 million has been invested into the Northeastland renovations with 8,900 square feet plus updated to include the lobby, back entrance, kitchen for the remodeled restaurant, and Business Innovation Center all owned by Ignite PI.
It will be the first co-working space in Aroostook County and the only one north of Bangor.
The Innovation Center will open in early January 2023 and is a shared workspace where entrepreneurs can meet using hotel wifi, soundproof booths and private office spaces. The pen work floor has foam padding on the hanging lights to absorb sound. Ignite PI hopes the Innovation Center will spark creative new ventures that will remain in Aroostook County.
Ignite PI members held a ribbon cutting on Dec. 8 with speakers including Board Chair Ryan Pelletier, Vice President for Nickerson and O’Day Wade Poulton, Ignite PI’s newest CEO LeRae Kinney and President and CEO Mary of the Rodney Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation, who attended the conference via Zoom.
“Not only will [the business innovation center] be a co-work space, it will represent the ultimate connector for our business community,” Kinney said.
Proceeds from the hotel, restaurant and business innovation memberships will go back into the community through workforce development of the staff, including symposiums offered at the hotel.
Kinney said Ignite PI aims to connect entrepreneurs with organizations throughout Aroostook County to help grow their businesses. The Innovation Center will be open to all local businesses in need of office space.
“We formed [Ignite PI] a little over two years ago with the idea of being and doing economic and business development differently,” Pelletier said.
There was no better place for Ignite PI to be located than in the Northeastland Hotel in the heart of downtown Presque Isle, Pelletier said.
“The last two years for Ignite PI have been exceedingly challenging. We’re here today to celebrate materially finishing phase one of the renovation,” Smith said.
In July 2022, Ignite PI’s co-founder and director of community innovation Clinton Deschene resigned without saying what his next venture would be. After months of searching nationally for a new CEO, Ignite PI found a candidate in its own backyard with Kinney, who began her leadership role on Nov. 7.
During the renovations, the Ignite PI staff worked in the hotel to oversee the construction of the business Innovation Center, Rodney’s restaurant and upgrades to the hotel.
Nickerson and O’Day oversaw the renovations to the Northeastland Hotel, keeping contract work as local as possible.
“It’s no secret that construction is stressful with occupied renovations, which are probably up there on the scale of being the most stressful,” Poulton said. “Anyone that has lived in their house while it’s being renovated will attest to that.”
The Nickerson and O’Day construction crew was entirely local with 50 vendors and subcontractors contributing to the hotel’s renovations, plus S.W. Collins donated materials such as framing, temporary walls and hardware for the doors.
“In less than 17 months, [Ignite PI] has more than tripled our workforce,” Kinney said. “We started out with 14 employees at the time of the purchase of the hotel and we now employ 47 team members and counting.
Across the hotel floor is remodeled restaurant Rodney at 436 Main that Ignite PI dedicated to Mary Barton Smith’s late husband. Smith also donated $300,000 of initial investment from the Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation toward the effort and has invested around $5 million as a grant for the first phase. Improvements also extend to the kitchen, which has new workstations and prep areas, in addition to increased staff training and COVID-19 policies for a safer workplace and healthier staff.
The menu offers simple recipes and flavors like the classic poutine or lobster sliders as a couple of the bar appetizers, according to the Executive Chef Joseph Smith.
Rodney’s at 436 Main is only serving dinner and is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, with a late night menu from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The center offers six tiers of memberships, including daily passes and weekly or monthly options.
Correction: A previous version of this report misidentified speaker Vice President Wade Poulton, who spoke at the press conference instead of Karl Ward.