Acadia National Park hopes to be the first to use a new federal law to find a private partner for a housing project at Acadia for its workers.
Park officials, who typically hire about 150 seasonal workers annually, need about 60 more beds. They have issued a request for information to develop its 3-acre Harden Farm Road housing site and hope to begin vetting potential partners next month, spokeswoman Christie Anastasia said Wednesday.
Workforce housing has been a chronic problem on Mount Desert Island and a recent issue in Ellsworth. Data compiled by Island Housing Trust indicate that 78 percent of Mount Desert’s island-based businesses had difficulty housing workers on the island. Ellsworth officials counted more than 99 proposed housing units under review in June as city developers worked to meet demand.
“This is an opportunity to revitalize and provide additional housing for Acadia National Park seasonal employees,” park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in a statement. “Seasonal employee housing is critical to us in being able to recruit and retain a well-qualified workforce, and it is also a crucial need for many other businesses and organizations in our community.”
If Acadia finds a developer, the resultant project would be the first in the nation to utilize a federal law amended in 2014 to allow a public-private partnership to create worker housing on land leased from a national park, according to the RFI documentation.
According to the request for information, MDI’s private sector seasonal housing has shrunk as units have been converted to short-term, high-cost vacation rentals, severely limiting the ability of Acadia and other local employers to house their seasonal staffs.
Besides helping to alleviate a housing shortage, the project would allow Acadia to remain competitive with other National Park Service units that also need workers from May to October, Acadia’s busiest season, Anastasia said.
“When people apply to work for the National Park Service, they will get paid more or less the same rates. It certainly helps when a [park unit] offers them housing,” Anastasia said.
That’s also the time when the island’s other tourist-based businesses need workers. Studies show that 4,400 jobs in Maine are supported by tourism generated directly by Acadia. The park had a record-setting estimated 3.5 million visits in 2017 and was on pace to break the record in August.
The development could also house seasonal workers employed by other island businesses, Anastasia said.
Acadia officials hope to meet with prospective developers at what it is calling an Industry Day conference scheduled at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference Center in Bar Harbor on Nov. 14. Feedback from that and the RFI will help them select a partner soon after, Anastasia said.
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