Group seeks renewal, growth

MOUNT DESERT — The goals of the new, privately funded Mount Desert Economic Sustainability Initiative (MDESI) – to provide “renewal and growth opportunities” for downtown Northeast Harbor and to create affordable housing – dovetail with the town’s own economic development goals.

That raises the question of whether the public and private initiatives will be complementary or redundant – or if both are needed.

The MDESI was formed last month by seasonal and year-round residents to rally opposition to allowing cruise ships to visit Northeast Harbor. The Board of Selectmen voted last week to prohibit cruise ship visits.

MDESI organizers said their long-term goals are to establish programs to support existing businesses and attract new ones and to develop “affordable housing and mortgage assistance programs to help existing year-round residents and attract new families to our community.”

Over the past decade, several groups have been formed to explore ways to promote the economic revitalization of Northeast Harbor, and various plans have been floated.

Three years ago, the town hired an economic development consultant, Jackie Hewitt, who works with an informal committee of year-round and seasonal residents. The Summer Residents Association (SRA) has helped pay for that position.

Last spring, the SRA agreed to contribute $7,500 of the town’s estimated $10,000 cost of setting up a 501(c)3 Economic Development Corporation to promote the economic rejuvenation of the town, particularly Northeast Harbor.

Town Manager Durlin Lunt said the corporation would be able to do things “that towns generally are somewhat reluctant to do or perhaps are not even [legally] entitled to do,” such as raise private funds and help put together development projects.

“It will have the ability to work outside the very rigorous confines of municipal government,” Lunt said.

The Economic Development Corporation has not yet been formed. Asked if it will be, Selectman Martha Dudman, who also serves on the ad hoc economic development committee, said, “We’re in the process. But there’s the new information about other groups that are interested in the very same things that we’re excited about for our town.”

Asked if town officials have met or spoken with representatives of the MDESI, Dudman said, “We’re reaching out to them because we would all like to work together. We all want a prosperous, year-round community [with] a viable downtown and sustainable businesses.”

Matt Hart, the other selectman on the economic development committee, said, “We are looking forward to collaborating with this new group. I don’t think we have any a desire to be competing over the same resources or projects. I think our viewpoint is that we’re thrilled that there are more people coming to the table now.”

The leaders and major financial backers of the MDESI have not been publicly identified. But people involved with the organization have said it plans to hire an executive director and open an office in Northeast Harbor in the near future.

“We plan additional announcements in the coming weeks relating to our near-term objectives, including the importance of ‘buying local,’” the organization states on its website.



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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