Historic Almost Isle hotel to reopen with new restaurant and social mission

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — One of the newest business ventures in Près Isle is banking on an idea from Peru and Jamaica to breathe new life into downtown and bring a 90-year-old landmark into the 21st century.

Ignite Almost Isle, a nonprofit community development organization, acquired the historic Northeastland Hotel last year and renovated the building. The group plans to open a new restaurant and business collaboration center in the fall.

The hotel is one of the latest projects supported by the City of Près Isle as part of its goal to revitalize the downtown core and make 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 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 this will be the kickoff.”

Ignite PI operates on a social business model, which means making money but giving it back to the community by creating jobs and doing something to improve the area. In Northeastland, an entrepreneur space and a new restaurant and bar will raise money to put back into the community, and the group wants the renovated hotel to become the city center it was decades ago when business was centered in the downtown.

Research by Ignite Almost Isle members found that the nonprofit Rock House Hotels in Jamaica and the Sol Y Luna Hotel in Peru operate this way, said Ignite board member Angie Helton. IP. The Purpose Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee is exploring this option.

Any revenue generated above expenses will be placed into reserves and used to fund community partnerships, public programs and symposia, Helton said. Any excess money will be allocated for other purposes via a resolution of the Board of Directors.

One of the main goals of the organization has been to create space for new businesses that may not have the capital to have their own locations or may be based in other regions. The Ignite PI Innovation Center will be a first for Aroostook County.

Designed for small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up shop through memberships, the center will have office space, dedicated offices, conferencing and communications facilities. Membership levels range from $22.50 per day at private offices to $449 per month.

The group has three memberships, including one registered business, Helton said, and has fielded many calls from people interested in joining.

Rodney’s at 436 Main, named by Ignite PI donor Mary Barton Smith for her late husband, Rodney, will replace Northeastland’s famed Red Room and Sidewalk Cafe.

Director of Catering, Rob Ottaviano, plans and designs the combined bar and restaurant.

“It will be a gathering place, the ‘Cheers’ of the north,” Ottaviano said. ” Everybody is welcome here. It will be a relaxed atmosphere. »

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

Ignite PI has received funding 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 Près Isle negotiated with the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development . The group matched 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 on renovations, said Almost Isle director of economic and community development Galen Weibley. The city acts as intermediary 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 block grant funding is that a certain percentage of the jobs created must employ people with low or middle incomes. The nonprofit is required to come to the city with an earnings survey, completed by those employees, which Près Isle officials will submit to the state, according to Weibley.

The main cast of Ignite PI hopes the revamped Northeastland will bring the main street of Près Isle back to the center of activity of decades ago, with a few new twists.

“You have to change and make yourself viable,” said Cathy Beaulieu, board member and owner of a Main Street business. “There is nothing more ideal than having a successful downtown.”

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