KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — When it comes to large hotels, such as The Colony, which looks majestic from Ocean Avenue, residents in a community often feel apart from them, as though such destinations seem to be for rich tourists only.
John Martin, a managing partner at The Colony, said he once experienced this sense of distance firsthand. Martin said he once suggested to his wife that they visit a local hotel for a drink while they were visiting a community in Massachusetts early in their marriage.
“We can’t go in there,” his wife said.
To which Martin replied, “Of course we can go in there. It’s a hotel.”
That’s the way people think when it comes to big hotels, Martin said. They think they’re off limits to everyone except those who can afford to stay there. When it comes to The Colony, though, major efforts are underway to change that mistaken mindset — to make the historic hotel become “more a part of the community,” Martin said.
Swing by to stroll, sip coffee, or shop
The first phase of a major redevelopment of The Colony could begin as early as Nov. 1 and is slated to be finished in about two years, according to Martin.
When it is finished, tourists with booked rooms will not be the only ones who can enjoy the site: residents of Kennebunkport and neighboring communities will be able to walk revamped trails on the property, enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend, and shop at a new market.
The Boughton Hotel Corporation owns The Colony. Martin is the third generation in his family to be affiliated with The Colony, which opened under that name during the summer of 1948.
When he came on board at the hotel in a professional capacity 15 years ago, Martin said he began efforts to open the hotel up to the community. He began to transform the landmark from an exclusive hotel to one that is more integrated with the community around it.
“I think that’s what this is going to do,” Martin said, referring to the redevelopment project. “It’s really going to start to make the hotel property feel like the community is involved.”
Demolition to make room for new construction
The project has cleared all hurdles with the town’s planning process. On Wednesday, Aug. 18, the Kennebunkport Planning Board had a routine finding of facts regarding the first phase.
The board has approved the demolition of all existing buildings and parking areas on the north campus to make way for new construction. Two new buildings will be built: one will have a market and restaurant on the bottom floor and hotel rooms above; the other will actually be three structures of hotel rooms connected by skywalks. Multiple new parking lots, serving guests, diners and staff, will be built as well.
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Martin said the market will offer baked goods, beer, wine, high-end cheeses and grab-and-go items, such as toiletries, and will include a cappuccino bar. It will not be as big as other markets in the community, but will “support the neighborhood,” he said. Six guest rooms will be on the floor above the market and will be accessed separately.
Also part of this phase, a part of Colony Avenue will be reconstructed to provide a straighter road alignment. As well, curbing, a sidewalk, and underground utilities are expected to be installed. Once complete, the improved stretch of Colony Avenue will bisect a new, one-acre park encircled by parking spaces.
“We’ll have shuffleboard, we’ll have horseshoes — we’ll put a bocce court or something that will help people use that space,” Martin said, as he pointed to plans displayed on a large screen in one of the hotel’s conference rooms. “It will make it feel, when you’re going over this neighborhood, like you’re driving through a park.”
This is the work that Martin said will begin this fall. Martin described this part of the overall redevelopment as a one-year project that will take two. Construction will take place in the off-season, so visitors and residents alike will not be affected or inconvenienced during the busy summer tourist months, he said.
Martin said the market, second-floor hotel rooms and associated parking lot are expected to be complete and ready to be opened by late spring 2022 — with the foundations of the three parts of the other building put in place, if time permits. From there, site work will continue later in the year, after The Colony closes for the season.
Historic charm, with added amenities
Martin said the project, new rooms on the north campus and all, will be consistent with guests’ desire for a look and feel that blends history with modern amenities.
“These buildings are going to be very similar to The Colony Hotel — white, with red roofs, probably — but the interiors are going to be very modern,” Martin said. “What everybody wants with a historic property … is to sit on the porch, sit in 100-year-old wicker, look at the ocean, and when they go back to their room, they want a flat-screen TV, AC, and a beautiful bathroom.”
Wright-Ryan Construction, of Portland, is the project’s construction manager. Market Square Architects, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, worked on the building designs.
Martin also said abutters and assorted local professionals have been included in visioning for the project over the years.
“Some people have had really good ideas,” he said. “We actually started morphing the plan around some of their feedback.”
The overall project, currently estimated at $15 million, is so large, Martin said, that it needed to be divided into two sections — north and south campuses — to accommodate and comply with the town’s permitting process.
Work on the south campus will begin at some point in the next couple of years, according to Martin, and its date of completion is currently uncertain, as a few of its details are still being worked out. Redevelopment on this campus will include taking down three current buildings and constructing new ones that will improve dormitory living for hotel employees and provide more accessible meeting space.
The property has a long and rich history in Kennebunkport. According to its website, The Colony was originally the site of the Ocean Bluff Hotel in 1872. Architect John Calvin Stevens designed the current hotel, which opened in 1914 as The Breakwater Court.
“The room and meals rate was $5-$10 per day, depending on (the) view and if you wanted a private bath,” the website states.
In 1935, the Boughton family bought The Colony Hotel in Delray Beach, Florida. Twelve years later, George Boughton bought The Breakwater Court here in Kennebunkport to complement the Florida hotel and create a kind of north-south connection that was common to such historic properties. The Breakwater Court became The Colony Hotel and opened for business during the summer of 1948, according to the website.