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Updated: July 22, 2020

College of the Atlantic and MDI nonprofit to partner on Northeast Harbor development

Courtesy / John Gordon This concept drawing shows the mixed-use COA Mount Desert Center, with student and faculty housing, plus street-level retail space.

College of the Atlantic and Mount Desert 365 will partner on a mixed-use development for downtown Northeast Harbor.

Dubbed the COA Mount Desert Center, it will comprise a three-story structure at 141 Main St., with year-round apartments for student and faculty housing, plus street-level retail space, according to a news release.

The project is expected to bring approximately 15 students and a guest or faculty member to live in downtown Northeast Harbor, but it will be more than a simple space to house students.

“The center will be a catalyst for deepening COA’s mission to add to the cultural, intellectual and economic vitality of Mount Desert Island, while supporting MD365’s mission of promoting the long-term economic vitality of the town of Mount Desert,” COA President Darron Collins said.

Northeast Harbor, a village in the town of Mount Desert, is a 20-minute drive from COA's Bar Harbor campus.

Funding for the new development will come from COA’s Broad Reach Capital Campaign, a $50 million fundraising effort the school launched publicly in 2019. It has so far raised $49.7 million.

Campaign goals include $5 million for new student housing. The school, which has capped enrollment at 350, currently houses half of its students, Collins said, and with the campaign intends to house 100 more.

MD365, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting long-term economic vitality in Mount Desert, acquired the property recently and has entered into a long-term land lease with the college. The property has been vacant since 2008, when the Joy Building and two adjacent structures were destroyed by fire.

Bucksport architect John Gordon said that energy efficiency will be a key aspect in the design.

Courtesy / COA/MD365
College of the Atlantic and Mount Desert 365 are partnering to build a mixed-use development to the vacant lot seen here in downtown Northeast Harbor.

"Our primary goal is for the new building to present a traditional facade that will be a comfortable fit on Main Street in downtown Northeast Harbor," Gordon said. "In keeping with COA’s long tradition of being a vanguard of sustainability, this building’s energy performance and low-carbon goals will be at the forefront when compared to other similar buildings in this climate."

The center will house primarily older COA students who have demonstrated a commitment to leadership and subject matter expertise, Collins said, with participating students engaged in subjects like marine studies, education, or the business and science of sustainability.

Collins said COA will explore partnerships with organizations like Mount Desert Elementary School, MD365, and Maine Seacoast Mission to maximize student integration and benefit to the Mount Desert community.

Center goals also include engaging students and faculty with research and academic work in Mount Desert, offering clean energy solutions through the COA Community Energy Center, hosting events and talks in the town, and eventually establishing a presence in the Northeast Harbor marina by keeping one of the college’s three research vessels on a slip there.

The nonprofit Mount Desert 365, formed in 2017, aims to expand sustainable year-round residential communities and economic revitalization of commercial districts. It owns a number of commercial and residential lots in Northeast Harbor, where it intends to offer affordable year-round commercial space, apartments or home ownership in a shared-equity, land-lease model.

The new partnership with COA will expand upon that, MD365 Executive Director Kathy Miller said.

“We are delighted to welcome COA students, faculty and staff to be part of the year-round community, adding vitality and diversity,” Miller said. “With focal points on environmental issues, marine studies and education, we believe they will bring new perspectives and energy, as well as add to the population who live and work here every day, and that is key to our revitalization efforts.”

Mount Desert 365 also has a new mixed-use building under construction at 6 Old Firehouse Lane in Northeast Harbor. The 10,000-square-foot building, with office space and three apartments, will house administrative offices of both Mount Desert 365 and Maine Seacoast Mission.

Seen here is an artist rendering of a new building under construction in Northeast Harbor to house Mount Desert 365 and Maine Seacoast Mission.

The mission expects to move into the new building later this year, bringing 10 new year-round positions into the community. 

Elected officials around Mount Desert Island have identified the need for more affordable, year-round housing as a top issue. A 2017 Island Housing Trust survey found that 70% of people working on MDI live off-island; many of those people could afford houses in the $250,000 range, but the average cost of a house in Bar Harbor is $400,000.

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