Bill to repair Houlton’s rest area totals $11,618

4 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The topic of the Tourist Information Center was back on the front burner of discussions with members of the Houlton Town Council July 22, after the board learned the facility needs repairs.

Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson informed the board that repairs, estimated at $11,618 were needed at the roughly eight-acre parcel of land at 28 Ludlow Road, which includes a 2,000-square-foot log building that serves as the home of the visitor center.

Those renovations include: insulation in the ceiling of the hallway and maintenance room ($5,548); picnic tables ($2,000-$3,200); striping in the parking lot ($998); chain link fence repairs ($1,872).

Anderson said she would approach the Aroostook County Commissioners to ask for their support in funding some of the projects as that group is currently putting together its next budget.

“I am not suggesting we ask the County for all of it.,” Anderson said. “We know we won’t receive all of it, but I think we are being responsible in bringing it (repairs) to their attention.”

The annual cost of maintaining the visitor center is roughly $42,625. That figure covers the maintenance and utilities (heat and electricity) at the facility.

Councilor Bill McCluskey asked why the responsibility of funding the center falls solely on the town of Houlton, when it is a tourism bureau for all of Aroostook County.

“That exists to inform people of what is going on south and north of us, so why does every nickel fall on the town of Houlton’s shoulders when it is for the good of the entire area?” he said.

In 2012, Houlton took ownership of the center after Maine Department of Transportation officials announced they were considering closing the facility in order to save money. The state agreed to turn the property over to the town, with the stipulation that the visitor center remain open, with the town picking up that maintenance bill.

The costs to maintain the center proved to be higher than Houlton officials expected.

Attempts to market the property as a potential commercial development lot have not been fruitful. In 2017, the town hired SVN/The Urbanek Group of Portland to market the property, but the contract lapsed without the building being sold.

As part of that marketing, the town asked any potential buyer to keep the information center open in some form.

Thus far in 2019, the town has received $30,000 from the Office of Tourism; $10,000 from the Department of Transportation and $2,285 from Aroostook County to assist with operating costs at the center. Those funds come in on a year-to-year basis, with no guarantees they will continue each year.

The town currently has the deed to the property and is responsible for maintaining the facility as long as the Maine Bureau of Tourism remains on site. If the bureau ever closes, the town would then have the option of purchasing the land at fair market value.

The property is valued at $763,500, according to Houlton’s property tax maps.

In 2017, the town hired SVN/The Urbanek Group, a real estate company based out of Portland, to market the property, but the contract expired without the building being sold.