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January 25, 2016

A grand Boothbay resort will get makeover

PHOTO CREDIT / CHERIE SCOTT
PHOTO CREDIT / CHERIE SCOTT
Linekin Bay Resort in Boothbay Harbor. Over the next three to five years the new owners, Scott Larson, owner of the Newagen Seaside Inn, and Steve Malcom, owner and CEO of the Knickerbocker Group, a design and construction firm plan to invest $5 million to $6 million over the next three to five years in the property.
PHOTO CREDIT / CHERIE SCOTT
Scott Larson and Steve Malcom the new owners of Linekin Bay Resort in Boothbay Harbor.

Two prominent business leaders plan a substantial investment in an iconic summer resort in Boothbay Harbor.

Linekin Bay Resort was acquired recently by Scott Larson, owner of the Newagen Seaside Inn in nearby Southport, and Steve Malcom, owner and CEO of the Knickerbocker Group, a design and construction firm with offices in Boothbay Harbor and Portland. The resort, located at 92 Wall Point Road in Boothbay Harbor, is on 20 acres, with at least 1,500 feet of waterfront.

The sellers were siblings Peter and Kristina Branch, whose family purchased the property in 1909. The original owners, Grove and Elizabeth Branch, were active in the Worcester, Mass., art world and established a summer camp at the site in 1919 and the resort in 1946.

Larson and Malcom declined to say how much the paid for the historic property, but they plan to invest $5 million to $6 million over the next three to five years, using a combination of their own equity and financing from Bath Savings Bank. They plan to open the seasonal resort, as planned, on May 21.

Malcom's involvement in the property dates to before the recession: He and his team at the Knickerbocker Group were hired to handle planning and permitting for a redevelopment plan at the Linekin Bay Resort. At that time, Peter and Kristina Branch had hoped to develop 35 private cottages on the 20-acre property. Although the deal received the required permits, it fell apart in 2008 due to the economy.

But by that time, Malcom was enamored by the resort.

"During the process, I got to know the Branch family quite well," Malcom said. "We stayed in touch."

A year ago, the Branch family put the property on the market, hiring Portland-based Daigle Commercial Group. Roger Daigle connected Larson and Malcom with Peter Branch. The sale was finalized in late December 2015.

"It's a fantastic piece of property," said Larson. "It's a beautiful stretch of real estate on Linekin Bay."

The resort includes numerous buildings totaling 40,000 square feet: five lodge-style structures housing a common area, restaurant and rooms, plus 32 numbered cabins, several of which are in poor condition. Everything is oriented toward the water.

Under the Branch family's management, the resort was popular for weddings. The restaurant offered three meals a day. The clientele includes families that have been going to the resort for three or four generations, staying days or weeks.

The Branch family has "an extraordinarily loyal following because it's such a family-oriented destination," said Malcom. "It's like a summer camp for family. There aren't that many resorts like that around any more. So the patrons just put up with what it is."

As part of his due diligence, Larson spent a lot of time at the resort last season, to observe the guests and get a sense of how they enjoyed the place. He was most interested to observe guests whose families had spent time there for generations.

"I was struck by how they just didn't seem to care about the condition of the buildings," Larson said. Instead, they wanted "the look and the feel of the experience. Having said that, the business had stagnated. Revenues had leveled out." "[The resort was] also missing a tremendous opportunity for mid-week and shoulder-season business," Larson said. "They had staff on the property, but they weren't taking any reservations."

This year renovation work will focus on demolishing an existing nine-room lodge and six cabins, all in one area, and replacing those with a 14-room lodge. They will also put in a welcome center at the head of the property; up to now, guests were greeted by the maintenance and linen storage sheds, with no clear indication to the office. Those will be demolished. Several rooms will also be renovated and, if there's time before the season starts, several cottages. The cedar-shingle buildings will be renovated for the same lodge style.

Over the coming years — during which the resort will stay open — every building will either be rebuilt or renovated.

Larson and Malcom say their business plan includes expanding the season, the retail dining program and the waterfront program. They aim to retain existing clientele and market to new guests who, they expect, will be attracted to the improved facility. The Branch family averaged occupancy of 60% to 70%. The partners expect that, by extending operation through October and expanding dining opportunities, they will double patronage and revenues within two years.

Important components of expanded retail dining include enhancing the dock-and-dine experience for boaters and increasing patronage by local residents, who already enjoy stopping by the resort to eat, drink and relax beside a bayside scene that's quieter than the busyness of nearby Boothbay Harbor. The property came with two docks and 32 moorings, all in good shape. They're purchasing two classic launches to bring guests in from the moorings for lunch and dinner.

For 2017, the plan is either to add onto or rehab the main pier and add floats to accommodate more boats, with the aim of enhancing the resort's image as a boater destination. They expect boaters to comprise half of the restaurant's revenue. A sailing program established by the Branches will continue.

The first wedding of the season is booked for May 21.

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