GARDINER — With no lodging options within city limits, visitors have to look to surrounding towns and cities if they want to stay in central Maine.
City officials hope to change that with an incentive program encouraging real estate brokers to direct potential bed-and-breakfast proprietors to Gardiner.
Gardiner is offering a $2,500 cash bonus to the first buyer agent or real estate broker that brings a successful bed-and-breakfast to a historical building — $1,000 once it opens and $1,500 after a year if it stays.
Director of Economic and Community Development Nate Rudy said it’s preferable to the city spending money on traditional advertisements that would be be worth the investment only if someone actually opens a bed-and-breakfast. The incentive program will cost the city only if it succeeds, he said.
“We’re trying new things,” Rudy said. “We want to invest our budget wisely, and I look at this as a targeted advertising campaign. … With this program, I know my message is going to exactly who I want it to go to.”
The incentive will be funded by the economic development budget and a pledge from the Gardiner Board of Trade, according to Rudy.
He said they began the program near the end of last year, but they haven’t had any takers yet. Rudy said he announced it to other attendees at a Maine Real Estate & Development Association conference in January.
The head of the association called the offer unique and said he hasn’t heard of other municipalities doing that.
Drew Sigfridson, the association’s president, said sometimes landlords offer similar perquisites to entice business owners to sign a lease, but he hasn’t seen it on the public side.
“I think it’s a creative idea and a good way to get Gardiner in the news a little bit and say this is what they want to see in their town,” he said.
Sigfridson, a commercial real estate broker in Portland, said it’s tough to say whether the offer will work.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt,” he said. “Ultimately it’s going to be a bed-and-breakfast operator that needs to analyze the options available in the given town and see if it makes business sense.”
Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association, said the area probably has room for another bed-and-breakfast, but it would require a hardworking operator to succeed.
“When you find yourself in an area that’s not a destination — Gardiner — you need to find a way to intrigue people into coming,” he said. “You have to create your own destination.”
Dugal said the likely key for a potential B&B proprietor to succeed is being part of larger a network of other lodging establishments and restaurants.
The closest bed-and-breakfasts are in Hallowell, and the closest hotels or motels are in Augusta, at least 10 minutes north.
Dugal said a bed-and-breakfast in Gardiner might have difficulty attracting business travelers, who typically stay at places with national reward programs.
But he said leisure travelers and some business travelers prefer the cozier, independent feel of a bed-and-breakfast.
The city conducted a hotel study in 2008 and 2009 to determine if there was enough demand to sustain a full-service hotel or limited-service motel close to the Interstate 295 exit near the Libby Hill Business Park off Brunswick Avenue, according to Rudy.
He said it seemed possible then, but they never found a developer.
Rudy said the bed-and-breakfast incentive seems like a quicker way to bring lodging to Gardiner than attracting hotel development.
He also said, anecdotally, people have supported bringing a bed-and-breakfast to the city.
Sigfridson said municipalities looking to attract specific businesses such as lodging often offer tax-increment financing to potential suitors, as Gardiner does for the Libby Hill Business Park.
He said a study to determine the demand for a bed-and-breakfast type of establishment would help make a potential operator or lender financing the project feel more comfortable that a business would succeed.
“I think it ultimately comes down to the product,” he said. “Do you have the buildings in the town that fit the bill, and is there a demand for it?
Paul Koenig — 621-5663