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April 2, 2018

Boston couple pays $1.8M for Belfast inn with 'wow' factor

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
The Belfast Bay Inn, with rooms and suites ranging from $259 to $359 in late March, recently sold for $1.8 million.

The purchase of the Belfast Bay Inn, ranked No. 9 among best small hotels in the United States by TripAdvisor, puts its buyers in a great position to shift gears from greater Boston to coastal Maine.

Susan and Clint Condon bought the inn, at 72 Main St., from Ed and Judy Hemmingsen for $1.8 million, a bit lower than the list price of $1.995 million. The deal closed March 15. Kimberly Swan of The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty represented the Hemmingsens; the Condons represented themselves.

Originally a pair of adjoining Greek Revival-style brick row houses built in 1860, the property was repurposed by the Hemmingsens when they bought it at auction in 2005, put in 2.5 years of renovations, then opened as an inn in 2007. They decided to sell about two years ago.

"There was interest in the property because it is so extraordinary, from the quality of the renovation to the sizes of the suites and the great location," Swan told Mainebiz by email. "But, Belfast doesn't have the interest that the more obvious tourist towns do, so the showings were not as numerous."

Belfast is fast becoming a destination, continued Swan, for people "who don't necessarily want to be in a busy tourist area but still want to be in a charming community on the ocean, close to Acadia and other spots. There are also people who already have connections to the Belfast-Northport area (like the Condons) who already know they love it there and want to be there as business owners."

The sellers — the Hemmingsens — have long experience in the lodging industry. From 1979 to 2000, they owned and operated the 97-room luxury Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor. Their restaurant at the Bluenose was one of 41 AAA Five Diamond award recipients in North America. In 2000, they sold the Bluenose.

"It was hard work all the time," said Ed Hemmingsen. "We just got tired."

They retired to Belfast, wintering in Florida. But after a while, they wanted to get busy again. That's when the Belfast Bay Inn was born. The renovation retained original architectural details like hardwood floors, exposed brick and crown molding. Features also include granite and marble baths, fireplaces, private courtyard, off-street parking, elevator and air-conditioning. The inn comprises eight guest rooms and first-floor common rooms on 0.14 acres, with 10 parking spots in an abutting lot. The inn was awarded a AAA Four Diamond rating in 2017 and 2018.

But the Hemmingsens missed Bar Harbor. So in 2017, they bought the Ullikana Inn there and listed Belfast Bay.

Sold on an inn with 'wow' factor

Courtesy / Clint Condon
Courtesy / Clint Condon
Susan and Clint Condon in the lobby of the Belfast Bay Inn.

Enter the Condons, coming from greater Boston but having strong Maine credentials. Clint's parents are Maine natives, the family summered in Northport, Susan came to love Maine just as much, and the couple bought a second home in Northport. Last year, looking toward retirement, Clint began looking for a small midcoast business and came across the inn, said Susan Condon.

For now, Clint is keeping his job with insurance company FM Global in Waltham, Mass., commuting to Maine on weekends, while Susan, who most recently worked for the Boxford, Mass., nonprofit Community Giving Tree, operates the inn.

"There's a huge 'wow' factor about this inn," Susan said. "The lobby is spacious and elegant. Every room is immaculate and beautifully furnished. It's a little jewel."

Neither has run a lodging before. But the Hemmingsens provided initial training, and Susan finds the inn's size manageable.

"I'm still doing the learning curve," she said. "We had to get up to speed on the reservation software, credit card processing, things of that nature. I have someone who can handle the back end of the website. We think we'll nail this down."

Plans are in the works to boost the inn's online and social media presence, she said.

"We think it's critical," she said. They'll also add amenities, like small-powerboat and bike rentals. The inn will continue to be year-round.

Employee hiring is planned, including housekeepers, with hiring notices posted online.

Interviews are underway in-person and by videoconference.

Also being considered are updates to the exterior on the street and courtyard side, new signage, installation of decorative wrought iron, trim color changes, awning updates, enlarging the kitchen and swapping in commercial-grade equipment, which could mean dedicating a room to dining.

The inn enjoys full reservations in the high season and, even now, reservations come in daily, she said.

"I've had several businessmen staying here," she said. "I have a woman from the West Coast who is checking on work being done on her property here. I'm pleasantly surprised by how busy it is in what I consider to be the slow season."

Moving up the coast

Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
Courtesy / The Swan Agency Sotheby's International Realty
The Bass Cottage Inn in Bar Harbor was recently purchased by Belfast Bay Inn sellers Ed and Judy Hemmingsen.

In the meantime, the Hemmingsens, in Bar Harbor, bought the Bass Cottage Inn, neighboring the Ullikana. Built in 1885, Swan said it's Bar Harbor's oldest continuously operating inn. The sellers were Jeff and Teri Anderholm, who purchased the cottage in 2003 and oversaw extensive renovations.

"We learned the Bass Cottage Inn was for sale, so we said, That's a natural for us," said Judy Hemmingsen. "We sold the Belfast Bay Inn to Susan and Clint in the morning and purchased the Bass Cottage Inn in the afternoon."

The Hemmingsens said they plan to combine the Ullikana and the Bass Cottage Inn properties, operating seasonally.

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