RUMFORD, Maine — Pursuing a brand-name hotel, filling up the business park and promoting the town to tourists were major themes at a recent discussion on economic development by selectmen.
“Not only I, but the rest of the board members and the community, we all want to see economic development come to our area, our region,” businessman and Selectman Jeremy Volkernick said.
He suggested convening a meeting with local business owners “to discuss what we can do to help our local businesses out.”
Board Chairman Greg Buccina said the town needs a brand-name hotel to jump-start economic development.
“We all know that in the last couple of years that we’ve been kind of hanging onto hopes of getting a hotel here,” he said.
The board invested in a hotel study, which determined the need for additional lodging and suggested how to pursue landing a Best Western or Comfort Inn, for example.
A developer was found to provide a hotel, but that deal fell through recently.
“I think we should aggressively pursue getting a hotel here,” Buccina said.
“If we’re going to look at turning this area into focusing more on tourism, we need people to come here to stay, and the way to do that is to have a good, functioning hotel.”
He said he believes the board should pursue a hotel that will be sustainable for decades.
Economic Development Committee member Jim Rinaldo agreed, but said it’s not that simple.
“First of all, we have to find a developer that’s willing to put $3 million, $4 million, or $5 million into a hotel,” he said.
Rinaldo said that even though the first project fell through, the committee is still pursuing developers.
“It’s just a tough, tough thing to sell,” he said.
“The biggest thing is … the latest population figure is 5,800 people for the town of Rumford and they look at that and say, ‘What do people want to come to Rumford for?’”
That’s why, Rinaldo said, groups are trying to create tourist attractions, like a mountain bike trail system and zip lines.
“We want people to come here and participate in some type of activity that has them stay overnight, so that while they are here, they will eat at our restaurants and shop at our stores, unlike what happened at Black Mountain this past winter,” he said.
He was referring to the U.S. Cross-Country Skiing Championships in January that Black Mountain hosted for the second year in a row.
Due to Rumford’s lack of significant lodging facilities, Rinaldo said most of the people went to Bethel, Wilton and Farmington.
“There was an article in the paper from Farmington and Wilton that they wanted to thank Rumford for all the business we sent them,” he said. “I think that was a slap in the face.”
As for helping local businesses, Rinaldo said they are “very close” to getting natural gas in Rumford to help with heating needs.
Resident Kevin Saisi said Rumford needs to build on what it has — eight places in which to stay and many different resources. He suggested they start promoting the area.
“It seems as if our slogan has been, ‘Shhh,’ because nobody seems to know we are here,” Saisi said.
“We have a lot of people coming here, but not a lot to offer downtown.”
Selectman Jolene Lovejoy suggested shopping locally to grow development.
Selectman Brad Adley wants more money invested in attracting businesses.
“Youth, diversity and culture is what we need,” Buccina said.
“We are up against everything in this state when it comes to attracting businesses and they have full-time economic developers,” Selectman Jeff Sterling said. “Thank God Jim (Rinaldo) is here and Phil (Blampied) for what he does.”
Blampied, who chairs the Economic Development Committee, said Rumford needs to aggressively try to fill up its business park, for which the board recently created a new tax-increment financing district.
“The clock is ticking on the TIF district there, tick, tick, tick,” Blampied said.