In a move aimed at addressing the perennial lack of housing on Mount Desert Island for seasonal employees, Acadia is looking to become the first national park in the country to partner with a private developer on a housing project.
Who the private developer might be and the project’s potential cost are unknown at this point, but Acadia officials already have identified a four-acre site for the project in Bar Harbor near part of the Kebo Valley golf course, on Kebo Street between Cromwell Harbor and Park Loop roads. The park currently owns two buildings on the property, built in 1962, that can house eight people. Those would be replaced with one or more buildings that could house a total of 25 to 30 seasonal park employees, according to park official John Kelly.
“Those buildings have definitely served their purpose,” Kelly said.
In 1996, the park service adopted a provision that allows parks to partner with private developers to meet their housing needs, Kelly said, but so far no park has pursued such a partnership. Acadia would be the first.
The park hires around 150 seasonal employees each year for the busy tourist season in summer and fall, and has enough housing for roughly 80 of them. Some of the park’s seasonal employees already have their own housing, Kelly said, so the park is not looking to double its current housing capacity.
If the park partners with a private developer to build seasonal housing, the park service would lease the site to the developer for 50 years and would allow the developer to build additional units that could be leased to people who do not work at Acadia, Kelly said. Some additional units even could be leased out year-round to people who work exclusively for other employers, he said.
The developer would bear all of the construction costs, but by leasing the site for 50 years would be able to recoup its investment by collecting rent. After 50 years, all outstanding legal rights and claims to the development would revert to the federal government, Kelly said.
The park would restrict the size of the project and make sure it does not have any undue impact on the surrounding area, he said.
“We don’t want to overbuild the site,” Kelly said.
Already, park officials have had informal discussions with other employers on MDI such as hotel firms and The Jackson Laboratory, which also struggle with finding housing for employees, in order to assess the current state of the island’s workforce housing needs, according to Kelly. Last fall, the park issued a formal notice soliciting requests for information from potential partners in the project, he added.
“We have to have a sense that it is economically feasible,” Kelly said.
The next phase of the project — issuing a formal Request for Proposals — might not happen for another six to nine months, Kelly said, so the park can have time to figure out the appropriate size of the project and what kind of details would need to be addressed in a development agreement.
“In a perfect world,” he said, construction would begin in 2020, and the new housing would be occupied for the 2021 tourist season.