In the summer of 2022 or 2023, a wedding reception may be held on the top floor of a new hotel in downtown Rockport, giving the revelers an unparalleled view of the scenic harbor. Downstairs in the bar and lounge area, a visiting musician may take a turn at the baby grand piano, entertaining other guests.

In each room, guests will find gas fireplaces and luxury baths. Those who are hungry may decide to walk next door to 18 Central Oyster Bar & Grill. An entrance door will open right off the hotel’s front porch. Or they may head down to the nearby coffee shop.

As we talked about the project Nov. 9 with the hotel’s owners and developers, Stuart, Marianne and Tyler Smith, upstairs at 18 Central St., we could hear the sound of earth being moved just outside the window, preparing the site for the new boutique hotel. The Smiths plan to begin construction in early December 2020 and hope to open the new business in spring 2022.

“We’re not building it here because we need to make any more money,” Stuart said. “Our goal in this project is to bring some vitality back to Rockport Village.”

He added that for many in the community, including other business owners who will benefit from hotel visitors as customers, this project is a spark of hope for the future during the pandemic’s economic slowdown.

The building is designed to fit in with others on the street. Tyler said the bricks will have the same look as the new library that is nearly finished at the top of the street.

“Traditionally in architecture, if you’re building a new building out of brick, you try and source your brick and your clay (which the brick is made from) as close as you can,” Tyler said. This helps it match.

He said the surrounding historic buildings in Rockport were likely made from bricks using clay dug out of the Maine Sport pond because there was once a brick factory there.

The front of the building is set back slightly so that more windows at neighboring 18 Central will not be obstructed. The entrance will include an ADA-accessible ramp. The plan is for wrought-iron rails with brass caps. Rockport Steel will provide decorative fixtures including railings. As much as possible, the Smiths use local companies.

The building will have a mansard roof with slate shingles. John Hansen of South Thomaston is the architect and Maine Coast Construction of Camden will be the primary contractor doing the work.

The plan is for the hotel to have 26 rooms, despite the recent ordinance change, limiting hotels in Rockport to 20 rooms.

“Our legal advice is that the change in the ordinance does not apply to us,” Stuart said.

He argues state law protects his project, which had already gone to the planning board prior to the changes in the ordinance approved by voters in August.

The Smiths feel that they have already made concessions to those who have expressed opposition to the hotel. Their original proposal was for 36 rooms, and after they met with the opponents, the Smiths agreed to reduce the size by 10 rooms to the current plan of 26.

“We took a whole floor out of the building to do this,” Stuart said.

The current reduced plan is for six floors from the parking lot on the harbor side and four from the street side. He adds that he is not sure why opponents see a significance in the difference between 26 rooms and 20.

There is disagreement on the point. A group opposing the project called Friends of RockP.O.R.T. has filed an appeal of the planning board approval of the project. The group’s attorney said in October the new limit on rooms should apply to the hotel because it had not yet received its building permit. The Smiths say they will go to court if the Zoning Board of Appeals rules against them in the appeal process.

That appeal meeting will be held 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17 at the Rockport Opera House.

The Smiths argue the opponents are in the minority, and that many in the community favor the project.

“The vast number of people in Rockport are very much in favor of it,” Stuart said. “On a daily basis lots of people come by and say, ‘I’m glad to see you’re starting this and we’re looking forward to it.’”

The Smiths own other buildings downtown in Rockport and made a point of looking for tenants that would bring something needed to the community, such as a coffee shop, after hearing people walking up from their boats at the harbor asking where they could get their caffeine fix.

“The restaurants and coffee shops are ecstatic about having the hotel,” Tyler said. “If I’ve got 26 rooms and two people per room, an average of three days, every three days you’ve got 50 more people in town.” They argue that’s good for business.

“We’re very focused on making the village a viable place where businesses can succeed and there is a customer base for both locals and visitors,” Stuart said. “They can enjoy the harbor. Great views, great parks. This is an ideal place to be.”

One of the complaints they have heard about the project is that it will eliminate a view by filling the previously vacant property.

They have two points to make in response. One is that people will still be able to enjoy the view. They can come to the hotel to see it. The public will have some access to the top floor lounge area, they said.

They have also constructed a patio on the back of 18 Central to allow customers to enjoy the harbor from there.

In addition, they note that this spot was not always vacant in the past.

Stuart said this was the location of the Rockport Ice Company building until about the 1970s. The family provided a historic photo as well, which is included with this article.

In digging up the property, they discovered evidence of the ice company’s former basement cistern from its ice-making operation.

Further, they argue hotels are not really anything new to the area. Marianne said all of the local communities had hotels of a similar size. Rockport’s was the Carleton, which was located about where the new library is being finished up.

They plan to start the construction in the winter to help minimize the impact on other businesses that rely on summer tourist dollars. The building’s steel framework will come on 18 tractor-trailer trucks, Tyler said, ready to assemble. He compared it to a giant Erector Set.

They noted they are employing local people in the process. They already have 15 to 20 people working on the project.

The Smiths own three hotels in Camden – The Lord Camden Inn with 36 rooms, as well as the Grand Harbor Inn and 16 Bay View with a combined 31 rooms.

The Smiths are major players in the Midcoast business community and have a track record of giving back. For example, Stuart Smith is part of Rockland Harbor Park, LLC., which owns the boardwalk in Rockland and allows public access to it. They were among the families that privately funded the creation of Midcoast Recreation Center, which was given back to the community as a nonprofit in 2010. They also own the Breakwater Marketplace on Camden Street in Rockland and Maine Sport in Rockport.

The appeal

The appeal of the planning board's approval was submitted by David Barry; Lisa Breheny; Katie Grealish; David Kantor; Michael Hampton; George and Eliza Haselton; John Priestley; Kimberly and Rex Rehmeyer; Mark Schwarzmann; Craig Sweeny, and Winston Whitney;

Rockport resident Clare Tully has also been involved.

"Friends of Rockport is not opposed to the hotel or its developer," she said. "We appreciate the many contributions that the Smith family have made to our community through their businesses, civic engagement, and philanthropy. We just disagree with the current size and certain elements of the hotel, which is based on 16 Bay View. This is not Camden."

She said those who have raised concerns about the project want to protect the scenic view that the hotel would block.

"Our objection to the originally proposed hotel was primarily related to its size, scenic view elimination, the balconies, rooftop bar and inadequate parking," Tully said. "We appreciate the fact that Tyler Smith went back to the drawing board after he met with us. But with the minor exception of a slight reduction in the need for parking, the revised plan does not address our other objections at all. That’s why we don’t regard it as a meaningful compromise. The Smiths are proposing to build the exact same size building, just with fewer rooms."

Tully agreed that the ice building was there, noting it was attached to the building, which is now Seafolk Coffee.

“But the viewshed between it and the Shepherd Block has always been there,” she said.

She points to a historic Sanford map from 1894 and a photo taken shortly after World War II, which she said demonstrates this viewshed more clearly.

“The reason the Shepherd Block has windows on its western side is because there has never been another building next to it to this very day! This viewshed dates back to the Village of Rockport’s inception.”

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