GARDINER — The headquarters of Everett J. Prescott Inc. could have moved in 2003 from the city where it was founded in 1955.
Many wouldn’t have blamed them.
The pipeline company his father started as the first waterworks distributor north of Massachusetts had expanded throughout New England and west to Indiana by then. They outgrew buildings in Gardiner. Business in Maine was slow.
But valued employees didn’t want to move, and modern communication strategies made location less relevant.
So they built a sparkling three-story building in Gardiner’s Libby Hill Business Park. The company, now boasting locations in nine states, employs 300 nationwide and 100 in Maine.
“Before all this stuff happened, you had to be more central. Now, it really don’t make any difference where you are,” said Peter Prescott, the son of the founder and the company’s CEO. “That’s why we’re here and I think it’s worked well for us.”
But personally, Peter Prescott’s legacy may not be in business. It’ll be in building the more-than-$4-million Bank of Maine Ice Vault on the footprint of the Kennebec Ice Arena he co-founded in 1973, which collapsed in 2011 under a snow burden.
For business acumen and public service, the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce has given Prescott, 72, of Manchester, its Lifetime Achievement Award at the chamber’s annual awards banquet Jan. 25 at the Augusta Civic Center.
“He’s been such a longtime solid supporter of the community, running a successful business that has evolved and continued to grow,” said Peter Thompson, the chamber’s president and CEO. “The ice arena was frosting on the cake.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, Prescott said capital-area kids who wanted to play organized hockey often had to get parents to take them to Portland to play.
“We’d drive to Portland, let them play and drive back and we did it on our own,” he said. “Gas was 30 cents a gallon and that was a lot of money, so we got the bright idea that we’d build our own.”
He convened 11 people in his office to ask them to become partners in an arena. All 11 wanted in. He convinced Hallowell farmer Bob Ballard to trade land off Whitten Road for a share. He’d only do it if it was “for the kids,” Prescott remembered.
After the old arena collapsed, many local skaters and hockey players were bereft.
For much of the 2011 summer, Prescott, the last original partner still invested, publicly demurred on whether or not he’d rebuild. After Hallowell granted him a 10-year break on property taxes after he asked for a 20-year break, he moved to rebuild the arena he and many others say fostered capital-area youth and high-school programs.
But now he says he doesn’t think he ever came close to not rebuilding. He said he’d never turned a yearly profit on it, although some years “it was close enough not to cry about it.”
“Financially it would have been a good thing to leave once it went down, but I just think we owed it to the community,” he said. “The reason I moved forward was we had created a hell of an obligation over 40 years.”
The new arena is bigger and more modern, with a new focus on being a family skating rink, Prescott said. It has a function room, wi-fi and cellphone boosters.
Prescott said that’s needed nowadays. When the first ice arena was built, he said kids could play basketball, go to the movies or if they were lucky, go skiing. There were no digital distractions. There’s a new battle for attention.
“If we had the exact amount of business we had when it collapsed, we’d be out of business,” he said. “So we need so much more to do so many things to get it to go.”
That’s almost how Prescott says his business has changed over time. Economic hardship and changing technology has had his company constantly adjusting, he said.
“There’s so much out there to take everybody’s money,” he said. “You’ve got to find a different way.”
The recession of last decade affected business, split between municipalities and private contractors, Prescott said. But work is looking up. Information published in Portland Magazine says company sales moved from $60.3 million in 2009 to $67.5 million in 2011.
He expects 2013 to be a bounce-back year.
“If we do our job right and make sure we service the people, that’s going to make a big difference when business starts going again,” he said.
Michael Shepherd — 621-5632