New England Outdoor Center owner aims to revitalize Katahdin region with new complex
By Judy Harrison, Bangor Daily News Staff
The owner of an outdoor recreation center in the Katahdin region is finally moving ahead with plans to develop a 280-acre parcel into an activity center, hotel, artists village and more.
Matthew Polstein, owner of the New England Outdoor Center, initially hatched the plans to develop Hammond Ridge, a parcel of land near Millinocket in Penobscot County’s unorganized territory, in 2007.
On Sept. 28, Penobscot County Commissioners voted unanimously to endorse the proposal that 14 years ago was estimated to cost $65 million. Accounting for inflation, it would cost nearly $85 million today.
Commissioners agreed to send a letter to the Land Use Planning Commission, which signs off on development in the unorganized territory, saying it wholeheartedly supports the proposal.
Polstein’s revised plans call for the construction over the next 30 years of an activity center with a brewery, events center, hotel, artists village, private residences and employee housing.
Work already has begun on the activity center, which is expected to open in December, Polstein said Tuesday. It is designed to be similar to a lodge at ski resorts.
It can be used in the winter by snowmobilers and cross-country skiers who use the system of trails Polstein has built over the years. In the summer, it could be used by mountain bikers and hikers using those trail systems.
The event center, which could open as early as next year, could host weddings, family reunions and large gatherings. Polstein said that he might begin selling residential lots, all with views of Katahdin and Millinocket Lake, as early as next year.
While the proposal was embraced in 2007 and touted by local officials as a plan that would jumpstart the Millinocket region’s ailing economy, the financial crisis that gripped the country over the subsequent five years and Maine’s slow recovery from it prevented Polstein from moving forward, he said.
One thing that has changed, he said, is the need for employee housing on site. Back in 2007, there was inexpensive housing available in Millinocket, Polstein said. That is no longer the case as homes that could have been used to house employees have been converted to bed-and-breakfast-type inns or other short-term rental units.
Polstein told commissioners that he hoped the development over the years would add to the county’s tax base for the unorganized territory over the next three decades.
He said he was working with the town of Millinocket on the cost of emergency services. The road system in the development would be private, and the county — which serves as the municipal government for unorganized territory — would not need to maintain it, Polstein said.