Three months after the new owners of Point Lookout Conference Center in Northport announced they would close the sprawling events center by years’ end, they have changed their minds.
But the plan to keep it open depends on whether or not David and Tami Hirschfeld can find people to lease the lower portion of the property.
The Hirschfelds, of Camden and Montana, first shared the news Friday morning with the 50 full and part-time employees who work at Point Lookout. It was received well, they said later that day, with employees sharing their relief and hope that the plan will work out.
The cattle-ranching couple said that they had been taken aback this summer when they learned how much of a blow their original decision to close the center had come to people in midcoast Maine. They decided to shut it down after a hotel asset management company they hired to study the property determined that financially, the numbers just didn’t work.
“At that point, we probably made the premature decision to shut it down,” David Hirschfeld said.
“Out of fear,” his wife added.
The news left engaged couples scrambling to find new locations for the weddings they had planned for next year, and Mainers disappointed to learn of the impending closure of a local resource. The couple listened.
“We heard how much it meant to the community. It was a surprise and it was gut-wrenching,” he said. “[Then] we learned there were ways to not make it super profitable, but at least not sustain huge losses going forward.”
That is what they decided to do.
David Hirschfeld, 54, and Tami Hirschfeld, 58, first started coming to the Camden area in the 1990s.
“We fell in love with it,” David Hirschfeld said.
They eventually purchased a home in Camden, living there in the fall because Montana, where they had their cattle ranch and homeschooled their two children, does not allow homeschooled students to participate in high school sports. Maine does, and their now-24-year-old son, Isaac, played football with the Camden Hills High School team.
When the opportunity arose to purchase Point Lookout, they were interested. The 387-acre property on Ducktrap Mountain had been developed by MBNA more than 20 years ago, and features a restaurant, a gym, a bowling alley, two event centers, 106 cabins, sports fields and sweeping views of Penobscot Bay. Point Lookout was purchased by athenahealth in 2011 for $7.7 million and then was sold in March to the Hirschfelds, the principals of the Montana-based Deep Creek Grazing Association, for an undisclosed amount of money.
After the news broke earlier this summer that the couple would close the property, rumors abounded about their plans for it. Some speculated that they would turn the whole thing into a private home. Others believed the couple was interested in converting the property into a church, which if true would have property-tax implications for Northport. Point Lookout is valued by the town at just north of $14 million, and is one of the biggest businesses there, according to Barbara Ashey, the Northport town administrator.
Two weeks ago, she said that the rumors might be so pervasive because the property is so important to the community.
“People are nervous, because it has a direct impact on the people of Northport,” Ashey said.
From cattle to blueberries
The Hirschfelds said Friday that their plans for Point Lookout, at least initially, were simple. Part of the property, they wanted to keep as is — an events center, with cabins to rent, where people hold weddings and other activities. For the other part, they had a different dream.
“What we wanted to do was live on the property and farm,” David Hirschfeld said. “I wanted to switch from cows and dust and hay and wind, and wind, and wind, to blueberries and maple syrup.”
It sounds like a major transition, and it is, but it also makes sense, he said.
“The older you get, Montana is a tough country. It’s not a young man’s job,” he said.
In order to fund the real estate purchase, they sold most of their ranch in Montana. And because they are not hospitality professionals, they brought people in to look at the business and figure out a model that would work.
“We don’t have the ability to absorb huge losses,” David Hirschfeld said.
When the couple learned that the way things had been going wouldn’t work for them, they reacted quickly. But after learning there may be an alternative, they are actively searching for people to lease the lower part of the property, which includes 40 cabins, the bowling alley, the Copper Pine cafe, Hedges Hall and the education center.
The fitness center will be operated by the Hirschfeld’s 28-year-old daughter, Hannah Hirschfeld, a nurse practitioner at Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport. It will remain open to the public, including guests or tenants of the cabins, the family said.
They are advertising the lease opportunity around Maine and New England. Although they would love if one person or group came forward with a viable proposal to lease everything, they are ready to hear all ideas.
In the meantime, with Tami and David Hirschfeld living in Camden and their two children and their spouses also settled in Maine, the family is eager to figure out a way forward for Point Lookout and to trade in those rumors for the truth.
“We’re looking forward to being part of the community,” David Hirschfeld said.
Questions about the request for proposal will be accepted until noon on Wednesday, Oct. 9 via email to email@example.com. Written proposals can be submitted to the same email address until 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1.