After an 18-month renovation that has seen the building fully gutted and modernized, downtown Bangor’s only hotel is set to reopen this month in a slightly different format from its previous incarnations.
The Phenix Inn — returned to its original name after 20 years as the Charles Inn — has undergone a dramatic transformation since Francisco Arango, Leah Lawyer and their Florida-based business partners purchased it in December 2021.
Soul Short Term Rentals, Arango and Lawyer’s company that operates the building at 20 Broad St., is accepting reservations via Airbnb for its 37 rooms, all of which have been remodeled and updated.
The new Phenix Inn will operate as a hybrid between a hotel and a short-term rental like you’d see on Airbnb and VRBO, Arango said. It’s one of many such former small hotel or inn properties across the country that have forgone the traditional hotel model in favor of embracing the ubiquity and ease of apps like Airbnb.
“We prefer to use Airbnb as a booking platform because it’s so seamless, and there’s already a great community built into it,” said Arango, who with Lawyer operates similar properties in Massachusetts and Arkansas. “But in terms of the guest experience, there will be a lot of the amenities you might expect from a hotel. We just hesitate to call it a hotel, since it’s not quite that. It’s a hybrid of the two.”
There will be a building manager on site, cleaning and linen service, and hotel-like amenities like laundry facilities and in-room coffee makers and mini-fridges are also planned. Otherwise, however, it operates like an Airbnb, with no concierge, gym or other traditional hotel offerings.
The 150-year-old building has not seen a major renovation since it was first converted into a hotel in 1983. Arango and his crew have redone all the walls and floors, upgraded each room with new beds, TVs, fixtures and furniture, and did a full overhaul of the building’s HVAC system. The decor combines contemporary minimalism with art deco touches, including the remodeled lobby, which features striking glass chandeliers and wooden paneling.
“We especially love working on historic buildings, so we have really enjoyed the process of getting to know all the quirks of this building,” Arango said. “This is not a cut and paste kind of remodeling job. There is no other building like this.”
20 Broad St. was built in 1873 and began life as a multi-story warehouse for grocery wholesaler T.R. Savage, with other establishments housed in the street level space at various times, including law offices, a bar and offices for the American Legion. One of the rooms at the inn still houses a massive vault, which Arango said is too big to remove, where Savage himself reportedly kept all his money.
In 1952, Viner Music moved into the space, selling both musical instruments and records. It would stay there for three decades and was the most popular record store in Bangor for many years until it closed in late 1981.
Not long after Viner Music closed, the city approved a plan to renovate the entire structure into a hotel called the Phenix Inn, named for the Phenix Block, the colloquial name of the building. No one knows why the word “phoenix” is misspelled, but according to the more than 100-year-old plaque at the top of the building’s facade, it’s been known as that for many decades, according to a 1982 story in the Bangor Daily News.
The 37-room hotel has had a rocky road in the 40 years since it opened. Harold Igoe, who first turned the building into a hotel, fell behind on his mortgage and property taxes, and the bank foreclosed on the building in 1993. Paul Johnson purchased it at auction in 1994, and then sold it in 2003 to Charles and Judy Burrell, who renamed it the Charles Inn.
The Burrells sold it to Connie Boivin in 2005, who added a bar called The Big Easy in the lobby. She ran it until 2015, when she sold it to Leanne and Allen Hewey, who also own the Vacationland Inn in Brewer. In late 2021, the Heweys sold it to Arango, Lawyer and their business partners, who closed the inn for renovations in early 2022 and announced plans to rename it the Phenix Inn.
In 2016, West Market Square Artisan Coffeehouse opened in part of the former lobby of the inn, which in February of this year was sold to new owners and reopened as Chimera Coffee. It too has received a renovation, and will reopen next week with a new look. Chimera owners Wayne Johnson and Aaron Parker will roast a special coffee blend that will be available for guests to brew in their in-room coffee makers.
The building at 20 Broad St. in downtown Bangor has been under major renovations over the past year, and is reopening this month as the Phenix Inn, offering short-term rentals. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN
Arango said that he hopes to fill an underserved niche in Bangor with the remodeled Phenix Inn — a higher-end, boutique lodging experience geared toward couples and young professionals, who want easy access to downtown and eschew the cookie-cutter hotel chains that dominate the hospitality industry. He also hopes to attract business travelers looking for slightly longer stays in town.
“Bangor has so much going for it and this downtown is so great, and I think having a really well-maintained and unique place to stay right in the heart of it will really help other businesses,” Arango said. “We’ve really fallen in love with Bangor and we hope this is a positive addition to the community.”