One of Acadia National Park's existing buildings for seasonal employee housing. The park is considering partnering with a private developer to build additional housing. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Acadia to explore partnership for seasonal employee housing



ACADIA NAT’L PARK — In 2014, Congress passed a law giving the National Park Service (NPS) the authority to partner with private developers to build and manage housing for seasonal park service employees.

So far, that authority has not been exercised.

But now, the NPS is looking to form a public-private partnership (PPP) to address the shortage of seasonal housing in Acadia as a “proof of concept and prototype for future housing projects” in parks across the country.

The NPS last week issued a “request for information” from anyone who might be interested in forming a partnership to increase the amount of housing for Acadia’s seasonal employees and, perhaps, for other seasonal workers in the area.

The proposed location is a three-acre parcel of park-owned land on Harden Farm Road in Bar Harbor, which is just off Kebo Street and adjacent to the Holy Redeemer Cemetery. That is where the park currently has two 56-year-old apartment buildings with four seasonal housing units each.

Anyone who might be interested in partnering with the NPS to build a new housing development there must respond to the request for information by Nov. 5. Then on Nov. 14, the NPS will hold an “industry day” session at which interested parties can learn more about the proposed development and provide input on how a PPP might be structured.

“The NPS will use feedback from the RFI (request for information) and the Industry Day to decide if and how to proceed with this project and to determine the terms and conditions under which it would execute a build-to-lease agreement,” the NPS said.

A press release announcing the RFI quoted Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider as saying, “Seasonal employee housing is critical to us in being able to recruit and retain a well-qualified workforce, and it is also a crucial need for many other businesses and organizations in our community.”

Acadia currently has 33 seasonal housing units in 15 different locations with a total of about 80 beds. Each year the park hires 150-160 employees to work during the peak visitor season, which is May through October.

Park officials have said some seasonal positions go unfilled each year because of the housing shortage.

“Over the past several years, the supply of private sector seasonal housing has shrunk as units have been converted to short-term, high cost vacation rentals, severely limiting the ability of Acadia and other local employers to house their seasonal staffs,” the NPS said. “(Acadia) has a requirement for up to 60 additional bedrooms.”

Schneider last month told the Acadia Advisory Commission about the park’s shortage of seasonal housing and provided a preview of the NPS’s proposed PPP.

“We recognize that we’re probably unlikely to see a whole lot of federal dollars to build new seasonal employee housing,” he said. “So, we’re trying to figure out another way to address this need. The idea is we could get a private sector partner to build new housing that we would then share with that partner.”

The NPS addressed that in its RFI, saying Acadia’s seasonal workers “share affordable housing challenges with…employees in the hospitality and service industries and with students and researchers on assignment to the Bar Harbor area. There is potentially an opportunity to include lodging for these non-NPS employees as a source of supplemental demand for the Acadia housing project.”

The nation’s military services commonly partner with private developers to build housing for their personnel.

“This is the first project nationwide to be proposed under NPS PPP housing authority,” the NPS said.

As for how the public-private partnership would be structured, the NPS said, “As its preliminary position, NPS would expect the developer to be responsible for financing, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the housing project. The NPS expects to retain title to the land and improvements while granting a long-term lease to provide stability and a predictable revenue stream.

“Developers are encouraged to consider a mix of housing types that would meet NPS’s seasonal employee housing needs and potentially attract other compatible tenants.”

Because the proposed site for the development is federal property, the project would not be subject to Bar Harbor’s Land Use Ordinance. However, the NPS said, “Construction must be done in accordance with…local applicable building codes and industry standards.”

Acadia’s seasonal employees pay rent to live in the park’s housing units. They also would do so under the proposed PPP arrangement, paying rent either through the park or directly to the private sector operator.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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