RUMFORD — Work started Tuesday with a national hospitality consulting firm hired by selectmen to conduct a feasibility study to recruit a brand name hotel to town.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia said he and Jim Rinaldo of the Rumford Economic Development Committee met with Thomas C. Blake of the northeast branch of Colliers International's PKF Consulting USA.
“It was a good first meeting,” Puiia said Tuesday afternoon.
He said they began the process by introducing Blake to the community, identifying potential sites and providing a history of Rumford.
They also spoke about losing The Madison Inn, which was converted to condominiums, and how Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry is creating a bigger draw to the area, and Black Mountain ski resort in Rumford.
Puiia said rooms are lacking for big events, short- or long-term rooms needed for patients of Rumford Hospital, and engineers, management and consulting officials brought in by the Rumford paper mill, NewPage Inc.
In addition, now that state voters last week OK'd the Oxford casino referendum, Puiia said he and Rinaldo also mentioned that as a potential magnet.
“We figured there could be people not wanting to stay right there (in Oxford), like it is at the ski area, where they might not want the night life and they're just there for the day activities, or they may be traveling through,” he said.
Jump-starting economic development in town has been one of the board's priorities this year.
Phil Blampied, chairman of the Economic Development Committee, told selectmen and Puiia at Thursday's board meeting that they should soon decide whether to pursue a second Community Development Block Grant grant to continue improvements to housing.
“We have two areas where we have a good shot at a grant this year,” Blampied said. “One is the housing grant. Very often the federal government is well disposed to giving a second grant to a community that has already won a grant.”
Last year, Blampied helped land a $200,000 CDBG for housing. He said significant work has been done to 20 different buildings thanks to the grant.
“The impact in Strathglass Park is quite noticeable if you go through there,” Blampied said.
To apply for the housing grant, voters need to approve it by December or January.
“The other grant that we have a good shot at is a planning grant,” Blampied said. It would require a $2,500 cash match.
He suggested getting a planning grant and having the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments in Auburn look at the Cumberland and Waldo street areas.
“They would give us a road map to what we might do to restore and develop that area,” Blampied said.
He also urged selectmen “to get serious” about applying for tax increment financing districts.
“We can greatly enhance our appeal to new businesses if we have a TIF district set up where they can come in and get the benefit of a tax incremental financial arrangement,” Blampied said.
“There are a variety of ways that you could use the money that would come out of a TIF arrangement. What most businesses want to see is what's called a 'credit enhancement agreement' and what that is, is you help them pay the loans they took out to do the project.”
Blampied also suggested making TIF districts of the Business Park, and the Lincoln Avenue, and Waldo and Cumberland streets block, and the strip going west beyond Marden's.
He also said he would like the board to start marketing the Business Park area.
Rinaldo then suggested that selectmen hire a part-time economic director.
“We haven't seen any real economic development since we lost our economic development director in the 1980s,” Rinaldo said. “Doing piecemeal economic development is tough.”