GARDINER — Steve Casey thinks his latest expansion project at the Depot Sports Pub is probably his last.

Sitting at a table in his bar nearly a week ago, with bangs and sounds of construction competing with the buzz of conversation from the lunchtime crowd, he said: “This is it. This is as big as I want it to be.”

This latest project, which creates a new waiting area at the entrance and opens up space inside the bar, is slated to be complete later this month.

“It’s been very difficult,” he said, “but it will be worthwhile.”

And while his patrons will be able to enjoy the fruits of his investment in the new space, the city of Gardiner will benefit as well.

“The impact of Steve’s investment and others’ (investment) is not only in the direct employment, but the economic activity it generates,” Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said. “The Depot is a huge draw.”

That the pub is a destination business and adds to Gardiner’s nightlife is just as important as the increased taxable value that improving the building brings.

“Steve cares a ton about this community, and he cares a ton about his employees, and he has a ton of pride in the business he built,” Wright said. “He deserves the success he’s been a achieving.

For more than 11 years, he has overseen the transformation of the business he bought when he was looking for something different to do after spending 20 years, off and on, in the beer distribution business.

Steve Casey at the bar of the Depot in Gardiner on Dec. 21. The owner of the bar and restaurant is completing an expansion of the building. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Casey, who lives in Bowdoinham, had looked for a likely prospect from Bath to Augusta, but he kept coming back to the little bar on Maine Avenue in Gardiner, which he eventually bought. It was dilapidated, he said, but it had heart.

The first project was changing out the linoleum floors and removing the dark, dropped ceiling and exposing the original tin ceiling above it in 2007.

The following year, the kitchen was expanded and seating was added.

In 2013, he expanded seating in the back of the dining room.

Cody Rodrigue caulks tin ceilings in an expanded dining area at the Depot in Gardiner on Dec. 21. The bar and restaurant is completing an expansion. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

In this latest project, he has moved the kitchen, added a waiting area and opened up the sight lines in the restaurant.

After the construction work is completed, Casey needs only to secure a liquor license for the expanded area to be done with this project.

In all, he estimates he has expanded the building’s footprint by 30 percent.

Casey had considered financing his expansion in part through the Gardiner Growth Initiative, an incentive package in the form of a forgivable loan to companies that would expand in Gardiner or to Gardiner.

But the project had come to an end.

The program was a collaboration among the city of Gardiner, Gardiner Main Street, the Gardiner Board of Trade and the former Bank of Maine, is responsible for bringing Frosty’s Donuts, Emery’s Meat and Produce, and The Craft Beer Cellar to the city.

Renee Smyth, chief marketing officer for Camden National Bank, said the bank continued the program after it acquired the Bank of Maine in 2015.

“We left it open for a very long time,” Smyth said. “We hadn’t seen any businesses apply, so earlier this year, we decided to close it.”

Wright said the program was created at a time when Gardiner had a reputation as a place where a business could not succeed. It has been just one of several programs that have helped overcome that assessment. The others include the Community Development Block Grant program and indirectly the Brownfields program that funds cleanup of industrial sites.

While Camden National Bank no longer takes part in the growth initiative, Smith said, bank officials will keep their options open.

And the bank still has an interest in Gardiner.

It donated a block of buildings to Main Street Gardiner to redevelop, she said, and it is now looking for additional space because it has moved all its employees to downtown Gardiner, to the former Bank of Maine building, which is at capacity.

“We have a lot of employees who are downtown and are able to go to the restaurants there, like Domino’s and the Depot,” she said.

Casey said he wasn’t upset to learn the initiative ended, because he’d rather complete the project on his own.

“This is the best thing I ever did,” he said. “It’s been an enormous challenge and it can be frustrating at times, but when I get past thing right here, I’ll be able to go back to a regular work week.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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