Point Lookout management shifts; focuses on conference center, hotel business

By Lynda Clancy | Jun 04, 2010
Point Lookout, as pictured in 2006 in its real estate listing.

Northport — Point Lookout, the conference center development that sits on Ducktrap Mountain in Northport, has new consultants and management to run it.

"In the big picture, there will be very little change," said Matthew Arrants, an adviser with the Pinnacle Advisory Group, which counsels the hospitality industry on investments and real estate. Pinnacle has offices in Boston, Philadelphia and South Florida, and has been retained by Northport LLC/Erickson Foundation, owners of Point Lookout, to improve business at the facility.

Arrants said Point Lookout will direct more energy toward building the hotel and conference center business, and he will help make strategic decisions.

According to the company, Pinnacle has provided advice and analysis since 1991 "on the full spectrum of hospitality properties: hotels, resorts, conference centers, food service operations, timeshare and other residential resort facilities, golf courses, ski areas, marinas, and such public assembly facilities as theme parks, arenas, convention centers and exhibition centers."

Management of Point Lookout now falls to the privately held Pyramid Hotel Group, based in Boston, which provides hotel, asset and project management, as well as lender services, to businesses. Pyramid works with hotel brands, such as Starwood Luxury Collection, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott Courtyard, Hilton, Doubletree, Westin, Sheraton and Crowne Plaza, according to the company.

Pyramid has 6,300 employees, and will add approximately 50 to 75 more with current Point Lookout employees.

Arrants said on June 3 that those employees, in accordance with the transfer of management, are being hired by Pyramid Hotel Group.

"They [Pyramid] don't come in and clean house," said Arrants. "The idea is to make this transition as smoothly and painlessly as possible." He noted that the summer season in Maine is ramping up.

Point Lookout is owned by a limited liability company and according to documents filed with the state, is managed by the Baltimore-based Erickson Foundation, the nonprofit venture of the for-profit retirement community development businesses Erickson Group LLC and Erickson Retirement Communities LLC.

John Erickson created those companies in 1982. He also created the nonprofit Erickson Foundation, whose 2008 tax filings list land, investment and cash assets of $153 million.

Northport LLC/Erickson Foundation acquired the 387-acre Point Lookout in 2007 with its two conference centers, one at the top of the mountain and one at the bottom.

The property had originally been developed by MBNA 10 years earlier for corporate functions and eventually grew to include eight main buildings scattered on the hill, as well as 106 log cabins, an AstroTurf soccer field, a bowling alley and a gymnasium. MBNA also built a temporary school for Lincolnville on that Northport property while the town constructed its own new school in Lincolnville Center.

When Bank of America merged with MBNA and acquired its assets, it placed Point Lookout on the market, where it sat from 2005 to 2007. The property was listed on Christie's Great Estates for $26.4 million in 2007. The sale price of the property was $12 million, according to the town of Northport.

In 2007, the Finance Authority of Maine stepped in to help Northport LLC/The Erickson Foundation Inc. purchase Point Lookout, acting as the conduit for the issuance of nonrecourse tax exempt bonds. Erickson was expected to create 52 full-time jobs, said FAME officials. The financing package, arranged with private investors, totaled $30 million to help Northport LLC acquire and renovate Point Lookout and other properties, said FAME.

A short history of Point Lookout

Twelve years ago, Ducktrap Mountain lay quiet, an eroding dirt road running up its face, the relic of a dormant subdivision from the hot housing market of the 1980s. At the bottom lay an old campground.

Then MBNA bought the real estate that comprises almost 400 acres of mountainside overlooking Penobscot Bay, and submitted development plans to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Eventually, MBNA received its state permits to construct 106 seasonal cabins, a conference center at the brow of the mountain and another at the bottom, a pavilion, a fitness center, a temporary school for Lincolnville, artificially turfed soccer fields, a softball field and trails.

Appeals were filed to Maine's Board of Environmental Protection by citizens concerned about runoff into the Ducktrap River (home to wild Atlantic salmon), the large deer yard, and the cumulative, long-term effects of the overall development on the mountain.

The BEP, citizens, MBNA and attorneys debated several afternoons in Augusta over the suitability of the Ducktrap Mountain land for such a development. Sensitive areas of Point Lookout include potentially valuable deer-wintering areas located to the north and east of the cabin sites, said the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in 2001, but added that those sites were close to existing access ways and anticipated minimal impacts to the wildlife resources.

The BEP eventually upheld all of the DEP permits, but noted at the last appeal by the Coastal Waters Project that the cumulative impact was an issue to address. Of the total 378.6 acres, MBNA put more than 160 into conservation easements, all donated to Coastal Mountains Land Trust.

In 2005, Bank of America acquired Point Lookout as part of the bigger acquisition of MBNA. The bank put the property on the market then for $26 million.

In 2006, proponents hoped to site a liberal arts college, known as Founders College, at Point Lookout and entered real estate negotiations with Bank of America. Its organizers planned to open doors in 2007, but pulled out of the higher education licensing process in Maine after the public review began.

In 2007, Northport LLC/Erickson Foundation acquired the property for $12 million.

In 2007, FAME anticipated Erickson's presence would create an annual payroll of $1.8 million.

According to 2008 tax filings, Erickson said the foundation's vision "is to leverage the resources and environment of Point Lookout to enable aging services professionals and guest consumers to gain access to expert content pertaining to recent advances in applied gerontology (the study of aging in applied settings) and public policy, with a focus on positive aging."

Erickson Foundation said emphasis was on the development and hosting of summits, institutes and workshops to do with the field of aging. In January 2008, Erickson engaged a team to operate, manage and market Point Lookout as a wellness and education center for seniors. The team then "aligned ourselves with organizations that would provide the content and exposure needed to develop Point Lookout as a destination for lifelong learning and wellness."

While the Erickson Foundation had originally intended to use Point Lookout as a satellite campus for the Erickson School, with its focus on geriatric research, the foundation opened Point Lookout to the public, inviting corporate groups and guests to make use of the facilities. It also began marketing to the general public last summer.

In 2009, the for-profit Erickson ventures entered bankruptcy proceedings, but Point Lookout remained unaffected by the ownership transfer of the Erickson assets to a private investment company, according to an employee of the Erickson Foundation.

Northport LLC/Erickson Foundation's five Northport parcels had a combined property assessment of $14.5 million in 2009. According to the Northport Town Office, Northport LLC paid $254,851 in property taxes this past year.

Northport LLC also owns three parcels in Lincolnville, with a total assessed value of $573,000.

The Erickson Foundation's 2008 year-end tax documents indicate that the bulk of its financial activity rests on the operations of NorthBay Camp for children in Maryland, while Point Lookout represents its geriatric research programs.

In 2008, John Erickson called the Point Lookout Resort and Conference Center another "jewel in the crown" in the string of retirement communities he started 25 years ago. At the re-opening of the facility, Erickson said he hoped to see the compound blossom into a great resource for the area. He said he was pleased to restore and re-open the facility that was the brainchild of MBNA President Charles Cawley.

"Point Lookout is an important part of John Erickson's desire to change the face of senior living in America and improve quality of life in the freedom years," said Mel Tansill, senior director of corporate public affairs at the Erickson Retirement Communities, in 2008.

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