New owners pour work, funds into Home Port Inn improvements

SEARSPORT — Owners of the Home Port Inn in Searsport spent nearly $400,000 this year to repair the 157-year-old house, according to Arnaund Lessard, who owns the house with his wife Allison and business partner Kip Dixon.

When they bought the house earlier this year they knew it was in need of some serious maintenance, Lessard said. For many people who looked at the home it was a burden too great.

Lessard has worked in the hospitality industry, managing hotels for the last 20 years, he said. His wife has a background in commercial project management and Dixon is a professional chef. Their combined professional experiences provide them with the knowledge of what it takes to maintain the building, manage the Inn and run a restaurant and bar out of the house.

The Inn offers three main commodities to the community, entertainment, food and lodging, he said. They wanted to fill an entertainment void they saw in the community, which is a place where people can eat food, listen to music and find relaxation surrounded by a beautiful setting.

There needs to be a keen understanding of what it will take to maintain the perpetual upkeep of the property, he said. And not many people have nearly a half million dollars to fund all of the necessary repairs.

In order for the inn to be successful, the business model needs to support the home’s maintenance, which can come at a high price when the home was constructed in a completely different time period and many of the repairs require skilled workers who can customize fixtures, he said.

They installed 17 new windows, which needed to be customized to the house so they look authentic to what was originally constructed, he said. There was only one place in the area that could customize the windows and it came at a cost of nearly $65,000. They received a $5,000 façade grant from the town to help offset the window cost.

It is the second façade grant the town has issued this year, Gillway said, which has a $5,000 cap for businesses that apply for it in town. Those funds are used to give businesses a funding boost for projects, which could translate into more economic development for the town.

A business must match the funds it is applying for and it can only be used for projects on street-facing walls of a building, he said. The grant is funded by a tiff district. There is over $100,000 still left in the fund, enough to issue more grants well into the future.

The owners decided to focus their recent renovations on climate efficiency in the building, which is why they decided to replace the windows, Lessard said. They have invested over $100,000 in heating and cooling alone in their first year of ownership.

Home Port Inn and Tavern. Photo by Kendra Caruso

They put heat pumps in the building, taking advantage of Efficiency Maine’s rebate program for hospitality and lodging, he said. It cost them about $145,000 to install heat pumps but they are getting about $70,000 of that back through the program.

Other parts of the home they have upgraded include plumbing, electrical and life safety upgrades, which include fixing the broken fire suppression system in the restaurant among other fixtures, he said. They replaced most of the restaurant equipment and they had a professional painting team in the building for over two months working on projects.

The business partners were putting in no less than 13 hours per day of physical labor themselves to get the Inn operating this summer, he said. They were able to open the restaurant in June and started renting rooms starting on the Fourth of July weekend.

The 121 East Main St. home was built in 1865 for Capt. John P. Nichols, who is said to be one of the town’s most successful ship captains at the time, according to information from the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the house is one of the county’s finest examples of Italianate architecture with an elaborate cupola, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum.

The Nichols family was prominent in the shipping industry, producing at least 27 ship captains, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum. The house later served as the home for Carleton Bryant, an admiral in the United States Navy during World War II.

The Home Port Inn and Tavern, with an English pub style, is open from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and offers various types of live music every night its open. Lessard is happy to carry the home’s story into the future, he said. It has a long and important history in the town and he feels like it is a privilege to take care of the building.

“It’s a labor of love and a passion to serve,” he said. “… This, for us, is the next 20 years of our life and to ensure that this building is set up on a good track for another 100 years.”

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