RUMFORD, Maine — Some thought it would never happen, but Rumford finally has a hotel thanks to 29 mostly-local residents who dug into their own pickets to build it.
Until the new Best Western Plus Rumford Falls opened in May, the town of more than 5,000 people had only bed and breakfasts and a very small hotel in the downtown area. One the town had in the past burned down, while another was converted to condos.
Former Economic Development Director Jim Rinaldo said he pitched the idea to several business leaders seven years ago, recounting one discussion in particular.
“He says, 'I always wondered why we didn’t have a hotel in Rumford.' I said, 'Let’s call a meeting.' So we got a meeting together, 15 to 20 people, and that’s how we started.”
Those people all agreed to donate money to finance the hotel. Rinaldo said many began with $10,000, although some gave more. In time, they had raised $2 million, but the bank said the projected $5 million project needed more equity than that.
“We knew when we started we could lose everything we put in,” Rinaldo said. “But that didn’t deter us.”
He and other investors admit those fundraising months weren’t easy.
“There were days when we didn’t think we would do it,” Andy St. Pierre, a fellow investor and VP and treasurer of the project board, said.
“We didn’t give up,” Dick Lovejoy, another investor, said. “I think at some point in time we didn’t know what the future would be, but we kept moving on.”
They recruited more investors, making 29 total. And one new investor wrote a big check, which St. Pierre said put them “over the top" having raised $3.2 million.
The First National Bank of Damariscotta agreed to the loan, and the hotel construction began.
By that time, the investors had consulted with industry experts who told them a site next to busy Route 2, the east-west highway across Maine, would be the best place to build, so they began work on that spot.
Best Western agreed to operate the hotel and brought in John Gessner to be general manager. Gessner said he was skeptical of business prospects in Rumford — until he got there.
“The second I saw the property, saw the location, saw the amount of business here in the valley, I was sold.”
Project costs increased significantly due to the pandemic and the jump in construction prices, but the project continued, and the Best Western Plus Rumford Falls opened in May.
The business has grown steadily each month, Gessner said, and they believe fall and winter should continue to be strong.
The hotel that investors began dreaming about and working towards seven years ago is now a reality.
When asked how it feels now, driving up to the new building, Jim Rinaldo likely spoke for all of them.
“It makes you feel proud.”