New $2 million Maliseet motel opens in Houlton

3 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine –  The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians has breathed new life into a nearly 50-year-old motel located on Route 1 in town. 

The Wolastoq Inn and Suites, a more than $2 million project, took nearly three years to complete between major construction, restoration and renovation, and securing HUD American Rescue Plan Act funding.

After the band purchased the old Stardust Motel in 2021, they transformed it into a modern 10-bed inn and suites that officially opened on Friday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and tours of the new facility.  

“There were a lot of prayers that went out when a change order came in and another change order came in, “ said Rosa McNally, grant writer and motel project manager for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. 

The planning began with the visions and dreams of Tribal Chief Clarissa Sabattis and the Tribal Council, said McNally.

“Everything you see, they designed,” she said. “It is wonderful to work with a council and a chief that are passionate about their people and they give us the resources to do our jobs.”

The Wolastoq Inn and Suites is one of several businesses the tribe has recently opened or upgraded in the Houlton area including Wilderness Pines Campground and Grill in Monticello and Rollerama in Houlton. 

HOULTON, Maine — April 26, 2024 — Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians new Wolastoq Inn and Suites on Route 1 in Houlton is now open. (Credit: Joe Cyr)

During COVID-19, the Maliseets needed a space to house tribal members who either needed to quarantine or a place to live. But the Stardust was not for sale when the tribe began considering its purchase. Members of the tribe and McNally approached the owners who agreed to sell the aging motel.  

“That really was the driving force behind it and it really did make a difference,” Sabattis said during the ribbon cutting on Friday. “And it’s been full speed ahead ever since.”

The Stardust rooms were a step back into the 1970s with old shag rugs, wood paneling and pink bathroom fixtures. 

While McNally said she was in favor of keeping the vintage pink fixtures, the tribal leaders chose a more modern look and all the colors and patterns represent an aspect of their people and the river. 

Wolastoq means beautiful river and the Maliseets are the people of the river. So the deep blue exterior and bedspread patterns that look like waves of water in shades of blue and brown and the hand crafted details, represent their people.  

“The name (of the motel) for us was also important,” Sabattis said. “It is who we are and we still reside in the Wolastoq or St. John Watershed.” 

Constructed in 1965, the motel needed a fire sprinkler system, upgrades to make rooms compliant with federal accessibility laws, installation of a filtered HVAC system, septic system improvements, flooring, windows and basement repair, according to McNally.

The project was completed in two phases. The first included engineering and many unseen tasks but critical tasks. 

“The whole length of the building, the basement was all dirt and filled with water. “We had to do a drainage system and then pour concrete with a five-foot two inch clearance,” she said. “It was backbreaking work.” 

The second phase included interior work and the complete redesign of the rooms and lobby. 

HOULTON, Maine — April 26, 2024 — Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians new Wolastoq Inn and Suites on Route 1 in Houlton is now open. (Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli | Houlton Pioneer Times)

Funding for the purchase and renovation was made possible by a $1,037,000 American Rescue Plan/Indian Community Development Block Grant award. The tribe paid the remaining $993,000.

“You were able to get an almost impossible phase three ARPA grant,” said Neal Whitegull who administers HUD funding for Native Americans and is based in Chicago. 

According to Whitegull, tribes from across the country, from Michigan to California, competed for the funds.

The Wolastoq includes a combination of rooms and suites, ranging from $149 to $159 per night. One of the suites has two bedrooms and a cooking area and another has a large lounge area with leather sofa and recliners, a cooking area and bedroom. 

The motel team had a trial run before opening while hosting law enforcement officers from other parts of the state for the April 8 eclipse. 

“It’s been a great journey. We are so excited to open the doors,” Sabattis said. “Rosa (McNally) has been a rock star. She persevered and I am really grateful for all the work that has taken place here and I know she bears a lot of the burden.”