David C. Witham has taken the reins at Witham Family Hotels in Bar Harbor. PHOTO BY LIZ GRAVES

Son steps into top slot at Witham Family Hotels



BAR HARBOR — Hotelier David J. Witham retired in October after a long career. Son David C. Witham is taking the reins at Witham Family Hotels. The company controls nine hotels in Bar Harbor, including the Bar Harbor Inn, Bar Harbor Grand, Atlantic Oceanside and the new Hampton Inn, as well as three hotels in Ellsworth and one in Saco.

David C. Witham lives in Portsmouth, N.H., with his wife and three children. He said the company has “a good solid structure in place” and he looks forward to working with longtime company manager Wil Gaines and the rest of the team.

The company is not actively looking to buy or sell any properties at the moment, he said. “As it stands now, I’m happy with the portfolio. And I’m really happy with the team we have in place.”

An architect with a degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic and a private practice in Portsmouth, N.H., Witham has been involved with the family business for years on the design and development end. He designed the Grand Hotel and the Hampton Inn and shepherded them through the permitting and design-review processes with the town.

He grew up working summers at the vacation cabin business founded by his grandfather Warren Witham. “I worked at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, every summer. I was yard boy, pool boy, maintenance, laundry, eventually front desk. … I’ve probably done every aspect of the hotel industry that you can do.”

His goals for the Witham Family Hotels, he said, include reducing reliance on international visa programs for seasonal workers, closing the gap between the minimum wage and a living wage and improving their environmental record.

The company tries to fill positions with area residents first, he said. They host two job fairs every year, one of which was last week in Ellsworth. They also attend several others, according to company representative Kelly Wilder.

“We do everything we possibly can to hire locally before turning to the international [visa] programs and always have,” Wilder said in an email. “This season, we’re working with transportation companies Down East to find ways to make Bar Harbor jobs accessible to employees in that area.”

“We want to rent hotel rooms. We’re really not in the business of renting rooms for employees. But it’s just the nature of the beast right now,” Witham said. “It’s a problem on the whole East Coast.”

Witham Family Hotels has been in the news after buying apartments in Bar Harbor for employee housing.

“I’d like to work with the town and see the town be more proactive in addressing this through zoning and help get folks like ourselves out of the neighborhoods and into areas where it makes sense to have employee housing,” Witham said.

Pressure on the housing supply for seasonal employees and from vacation rentals is also an issue in Portsmouth, where he serves as chair of the zoning board.

“They’re tough issues. They are not easy answers. But I think there are compromises that have to be made,” he said. “I’ve been vocal in opposition to short-term rentals in Portsmouth, because it’s changing the character of the neighborhoods.”

On wages, he said, he’s proud that the company’s pay rates this year have taken a bigger jump than they have in a long time. All of their employees make more than minimum wage.

“My personal philosophy is if someone’s going to work for us, put in a good day’s work and be an important part of the team, they should be able to live off of those wages,” he said. “It’s a national discussion worth having. We can’t do it all in one fell swoop, but we can work our way up there.”

He’s also excited about a newly launched Witham Family Hotels Charitable Foundation. “It’s just in its infancy, but I look forward to getting it up and going, seeing how we can fit in the community and make a difference.”

 

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.