ORONO, Maine — For five decades, the Oronoka restaurant was known for serving big steaks, homemade honey biscuits and cold draft beer, all while offering panoramic views of the Penobscot Valley Country Club golf course through its front windows.
The landmark restaurant and bar closed in 2003 and has been vacant ever since. But a local doctor wants to tear down the building and construct a medical facility in its place. Dr. Orville Hartford is seeking tax increment financing from the town in order to bring Penobscot Valley Dermatology, located in Bangor, to the new location.
The proposed tax increment financing was discussed by councilors in March and October, and was approved Monday at the council’s meeting, Town Manager Sophie Wilson said after the meeting.
“Dr. Hartford, through Cutis Properties LLC, expects to invest at least $2 million in a new, 9,600-square foot medical office building and at least $0.3 million in equipment and other personal property,” the Orono Town Council agenda states.
A telephone message seeking comment from Hartford on Monday was not immediately returned.
According to the agenda packet, the proposed tax increment financing district would be in force for 30 years. The development program calls for assisting in the financing of the project through a rebate of the increment in property taxes at the rate of 60 percent over the first five years, 45 percent for the next 10 years and 30 percent for the remaining 15 years — for an overall percentage of 40 percent over the 30-year term.
The tax increment financing district is approximately 6.5 acres on Route 2, and, if approved, would put any new tax revenues from the project into a local tax increment financing revenue fund, sheltering it from from state and county coffers.
“Absent a [tax increment financing] district, it is projected that the town would give up 51 percent of the new tax revenue,” the council agenda states. Increasing the town’s total property value without sheltering the new investment would “reduce state aid to education and municipal revenue sharing and increased county taxes over the 30-year term.”
Property taxes on the existing property, which amount to about $4,650 annually, would still be collected despite any tax increment financing agreement, the town agenda states.
“The potential for job growth in the District include [Penobscot Valley Dermatology’s] current 14 employees and a goal of adding 18 in coming years,” the agenda states.
The Oronoka, which was a second home to University of Maine students and pilots flying into Bangor, closed Oct. 13, 2003, several weeks after the death of its owner, Nathan Kobritz.
At the Oronoka, food and friendship was a family affair, according to a 2003 Bangor Daily News story. Nathan Kobritz and his brother John Kobritz, who died in 1993, bought the building in 1954. In 1957, a young Husson basketball star named Ellen Severance joined the staff. Nathan Kobritz spent most of his time at the family’s other business, Star Beef Co. in Bangor, while John Kobritz and Severance made thousands of locals, pilots and University of Maine students feel welcome at the restaurant and inn.
In the early years, the restaurant was all white linen and candlelight, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a bar called Someplace Else opened in the basement, and a new era began, according to the BDN story. The lounge grew in popularity, and little by little, the bar crept upstairs. It became what Severance called “an elegant hodgepodge.”
Though John Kobritz had his share of run-ins with local and state officials — he once barred an inspector from the restaurant, claiming he was biased — he embraced his customers warmly, the BDN reported.