Planning board meets with developer of $6.5 million inn projectDeveloper to meet with South End neighbors
Rockland — Businessman Stuart Smith met with the planning board Feb. 11, outlining the benefits of his planned $6.5 million Rockland Harbor Park Inn on Ocean Street, and introducing himself to members of South End neighborhood affected by the project.
Smith said he will meet with neighbors and interested community members Feb. 26 at the former Amalfi in the Boston Financial building at 5:30 p.m. to answer questions about the project.
Smith saw benefits to the plan for a 65-room inn overlooking Rockland Harbor, including continued public access to the waterfront. He said the inn will likely mean improvements to the boardwalk, including more security to prevent vandalism and adding new benches. The boardwalk will remain open to the public as part of the project. In addition, he said people will be welcome to stop at the inn to buy a drink or use the restroom.
One goal in buying local waterfront properties has been to keep them open to the public, Smith said.
"A lot of people looked at the property and said, 'this is a great site for condos, this will make great townhouses, you will make a lot of money if you build these things and sell them off,'" Smith said, speaking for himself and his partners in Rockland Harbor Park, LLC. "That's not kinda how we operate."
He said the partners are usually looking for properties they can develop and manage and keep open to the public.
He also pointed out a financial benefit stemming from the project. The property will generate increased property taxes for the city, and developers will pay a $75,000 impact fee to make sewer infrastructure improvements.
Smith also believes property values in the South End neighborhood will increase as a result of the inn.
Architect John Hansen acknowledged that the proposed design of the building was influenced by the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego. The look of the hotel incorporates gables, dormers, cottage roof elements and a cupola.
The inn will be located in a flood zone, and is limited to 40 feet in height, Hansen said. The lowest level of the hotel will be raised 16.5 feet due to the flood zone, and with that, the highest point on the roof is limited to 56.5 feet, except for the cupola, which can be higher as long as it is not an occupied space.
Smith said there is more than enough parking there already to serve the inn. As for traffic, he said the inn will cause less traffic than was planned for MBNA and its 600 employees.
He also anticipates that most guests will stay two to three nights, and take advantage of the boardwalk to walk downtown to restaurants, galleries and activities.
Amy Files of Pleasant Street spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, expressing concerns about the project.
She described herself as one of the new folks coming here, attracted to all of the great things that are going on in town. She said she wants to see thoughtful development that maintains the residential character of the community.
She said the city's comprehensive plan states that projects should be evaluated for potential impact on waterfront views, and that people, including herself, enjoy walking along Ocean Street and enjoying the view of the harbor.
She asked the design be altered to be more inclusive of both the seasonal tourist industry and the year-round neighborhood that surrounds it.
"I can see that as a design right now ...it looks like the building's back is literally turned to the neighborhood behind it," Files said.
The developers said during the meeting, there would still be a significant portion of present parking area along Ocean Street that would have a view of the water, even with the hotel. There would be space between the building and the former MBNA building.
Daycare and fitness center
The partners are actually bringing two separate projects in Rockland Harbor Park Center to the planning board at the same time. The other part of the project, which will be completed first, will be converting the former Amalfi on the Water restaurant, which was located in the bottom floor of the Boston Financial building, into a fitness center and daycare. Those two functions will be administered by a single, nonprofit entity, which will be the partners' tenant, Smith said. He did not name the entity at the meeting, saying its board has not yet finalized the plans.
Though it will be a nonprofit, he stressed the property will still generate real estate taxes for the city.
The developers are asking the planning board to approve the change-of-use. The daycare will serve up to 40 children, and will be open to the public as well as Boston Financial employees. The fitness center will be located in the former dining room and bar area of Amalfi.
The partners hope to have this project completed over the summer and up and running in the fall.
Construction of the inn will be done mostly in the off-season to keep from disrupting area businesses, he said.
Getting to know the developers
The partners in Rockland Harbor Park, LLC are Stuart and Marianne Smith of Camden, Jay and Jean Kislak of Rockport and Florida, and Ellen Simmons. The late Matt Simmons was also a partner. All of them are well known for business and philanthropic work in the Midcoast.
Smith noted that Ellen Simmons just donated the Strand Theatre to a nonprofit group. "That's indicative of what my partners tend to do," he said.
They purchased the former MBNA property in 2007, and it is known as Rockland Harbor Park Center.
Their first goal was to fill up the building and keep it an active office space, Smith said. Most of the people looking at the building were trying to figure out how to do something else like shopping malls, condos, or healthcare operations, he said.
It was built to provide for 600 MBNA employees. Smith said it took a year and a half to find a good tenant in Boston Financial Data Services. The company employs about 260 people in Rockland, and he said that number would be higher if it were not for the 2008 financial meltdown. He expects the company will eventually have 350 employees.
He noted Boston Financial has been a great community supporter, helping local teams and clubs with fundraising events by allowing them to use the parking area in off hours.
Smith also talked about his own family's background. His wife Marianne came to the area in 1968 after graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington. She taught at the Rockland high school for two years. Smith moved to Camden in 1973. They started Maine Sport Outfitters in 1976.
They own Lord Camden Inn and the Grand Harbor Inn, both in Camden.
Smith and partners bought the former Van Baalen's building in Rockland and fully renovated it as the Breakwater Marketplace, which is now about 95 percent occupied, he said.
He and partners built Midcoast Recreation Center in 2000, ran it for 10 years and donated it to a nonprofit group.
Courier-Gazette Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.