Historic Presque Isle Hotel reopens with new restaurant and social mission

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – One of Presque Isle’s newest business ventures uses an idea from Peru and Jamaica to breathe new life into downtown and bring a 90-year-old landmark into the 21st century.

Ignite Presque Isle, a non-profit community development organization, acquired the historic Northeastland Hotel last year and is renovating the building. The group anticipates a fall opening for a new restaurant and business collaboration center.

The hotel is one of the latest projects the City of Presque Isle has supported in its goal to revitalize downtown and make it more business and community friendly.

A crew member from Sprinkler Systems Inc. works in the space that will house Rodney’s restaurant at 436 Main as renovations continue at the Northeastland Hotel in Presque Isle. Recognition: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

The idea is to modernize the hotel, add to the current 22 staff, and create spaces for business and community gatherings, said Clint Deschene, director of community innovation at Ignite PI.

“The social purpose of a hotel is to adapt to the needs of its community,” Deschene said. “We want to help others, and that will be the kickstart.”

The Northeastland will operate on a social enterprise model, which means making money but giving it back to the community by creating jobs and doing something to improve the area. An entrepreneur space and a new restaurant and bar will bring in funds that can flow back into the community, and the group wants the revamped hotel to become the focal point of the city it was decades ago when activity was centered downtown.

Research by Ignite Presque Isle members found that not-for-profit hotels, the Rock House in Jamaica and Hotel Sol Y Luna in Peru, operate this way, said Angie Helton, board member of Ignite PI. The Purpose Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee is evaluating the option.

Any revenue in excess of expenses is placed in reserves and used to fund community partnerships, public programs and symposiums, Helton said. Excess money will be used elsewhere by decision of the Board of Directors.

One of the organization’s main goals was to create a space for new businesses that may not have the capital to set up their own sites or be based in other areas. The Ignite PI Innovation Center will be a first for Aroostook County.

Designed for small businesses and entrepreneurs looking to build their business through memberships, the center will have desk space, dedicated offices, conference and communications facilities. Membership levels range from $22.50 per day to private offices for $449 per month.

The group has three memberships, including one company, Helton said, and has taken many calls from prospects.

A look at the ongoing renovations at the Northeastland Hotel, from left: Clint Deschene, Director of Community Innovation at Ignite PI; Jorge Macias, operations manager; and Rob Ottaviano, food and beverage manager. Recognition: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

Taking the place of the famous Red Room and Sidewalk Cafe to the Northeast is Rodney’s at 436 Main, named by Ignite PI donor Mary Barton Smith in honor of her late husband Rodney.

Food and Beverage Manager Rob Ottaviano plans and designs the combination of bar and restaurant.

“This will be a meeting point, the ‘cheers’ of the North,” said Ottaviano. “Everyone is welcome here. It will be a relaxed atmosphere.”

He plans to use local and Maine produce as much as possible. Aroostook County has taken food production beyond potatoes and grown broccoli, microcereals, hops and a variety of other produce, he said.

Ignite PI received funding from donors, including the Rodney and Mary Barton Smith Family Foundation, as well as a $250,000 community development block grant negotiated by the City of Presque Isle with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. The group covered that amount through loans, donations, and grants, including some from the Maine Community Foundation, Deschene said.

Ignite PI is communicating closely with the city and its Code Enforcement Office about the renovation work, said Galen Weibley, director of Presque Isle economic and community development. The city acts as an intermediary for block funding. Ignite PI submits bills to the city and the city requests funds on its behalf.

One of the unique aspects of block grant funding is that a certain percentage of the jobs created must employ low- to middle-income people. The nonprofit must submit an income survey to the city, which will be completed by those employees, and which Presque Isle officials will submit to the state, Weibley said.

Donor Mary Barton Smith and her dog Enzo (left) meet with Ignite Presque Isle board members Julie Libby, Angie Helton and Cathy Beaulieu amid ongoing renovations at the Northeastland Hotel in Presque Isle. Recognition: Paula Brewer / The Star Herald

The main protagonists of Ignite PI are hoping that the revamped Northeast Land will return Presque Isle’s main street to the center of activity it was decades ago with a few new twists.

“You have to change and make yourself viable,” said Cathy Beaulieu, board member and business owner on Main Street. “Nothing is more ideal than a successful inner city.”

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