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People have been calling the new Lockwood Hotel in Waterville wondering when they can book a room.
It won't be for a while — the opening, originally scheduled for fall, has been pushed to next spring so the hotel can continue to house Colby College students who'd normally be spending time abroad until pandemic restrictions ease in other countries.
Outside the floor-to-ceiling glass windows of the gleaming new Front & Main restaurant on the hotel's ground floor, orange barrels block off half of Main Street and traffic creeps along on one lane of pavement.
In that time long ago, before the global pandemic, it all would have been a huge frustration for a hotel general manager looking to get the much-anticipated new property up and running. But as Jordan Rowan stands in the light-filled Front & Maine dining room, he's smiling. And it's a big smile.
"This is really exciting," he said. "It's the start of something really exciting."
Colby College announced in early 2016 it would build a hotel in downtown Waterville, something the city hadn't seen in a generation. It's needed in the Waterville-Augusta area. Those looking for hotel space beyond chains that appeal to travelers on Intestate 95 often end up staying in Portland. The hotel is also a needed economic boost for downtown Waterville.
It's for people in the area, people visiting, but also an incentive for people who may not come otherwise, Colby College officials have said.
Now that the Lockwood is completed, despite the fact it won't open until next year, Rowan sees nothing but opportunity.
Colby has to make room for students who would normally be studying abroad until travel restrictions lift. The hotel has been housing about 100 students since last fall, and will continue to until the end of the coming fall semester.
The silver lining, Rowan said, is that the delay in opening gives the restaurant, which opened in March, a chance to get into a groove before the focus turns to welcoming the 53-room hotel's first guests.
The torn-up street outside, part of Waterville's $12 million downtown street reconstruction, is also not a problem. The project, by Topsham-based Crooker Construction, includes making both Main Street and parallel Front Street two-way for the first time in decades, reconfiguring the Main, Water and Spring streets intersection just south of the hotel, and adding landscaping and trees.
Even while the street work is in progress, it's not keeping people away from Front & Main.
"We're a lot busier than we expected to be," Rowan said.
The hotel also hosted its first event in its conference room, a meeting this week of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.
Rowan, has long worked with Charlestowne Hotels, the Lockwood's manager, most recently in Cape May, N.J., said the ongoing transformation of downtown Waterville is a big reason he took the job.
"There's a palpable sense of excitement in Waterville," Rowan said. "Things are on the verge of an explosion, something really exciting."
That feeling has been building since 2015, when the college started a robust downtown development campaign after President David Greene met with city business owners and others, to talk what was needed for growth and sustainability.
Colby bought the Levine's department store building at 9 Main St. in July 2015 for $200,000. In 2018, the college bought the adjacent Camden National Bank building, at 33 Main St., for $750,000, razing both buildings to make more space for the hotel. A century ago, the site was home to the Crescent, one of the city's last downtown hotels.
The hotel is just one of several major projects that represent $70 million invested so far in downtown development. Others are the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons dorm and commercial building, which opened in Augusta 2018, and the under-development Paul J. Schupf Arts Center, at 99 Main St.
Across the street from the Lockwood, Colby is renovating historic Ticonic Row, at 14-20 Main St. into an arts collaborative and office space.
Once the students can return to normal life, the rooms will get their final cosmetic touches, and the hotel will begin taking bookings in anticipation of opening in the spring.
The hotel, built by Scarborough-based Landry/French Construction, was designed by Baskerville, a Richmond, Va., firm, and managed by Charlestowne Hotels, of Charleston, S.C.
While the hotel is owned by Colby, it has a broader Maine focus. The restaurant and bar feature dozens of Maine brands, featuring art by Bernard Langlais and Passamaquoddy basket weaver Jeremy Frey.
"This is not 'Colby Hotel' for a reason, it's not on campus for a reason," Rowan said.
While it's definitely a feature for those visiting the college, whether it's parents, lecturers or others, it's also designed to welcome vacationers to an area where most of the hotels are large-chain traveler class.
"But it's also for the community," he said. Front & Main has its own entrance, though the restaurant, bar and lounge run the length of the building along Main Street. Gas fireplaces front comfy couches and chairs that are grouped in small clusters.
"We want this to be Waterville's living room," Rowan said.
But it's also got outdoor space — a patio with tables, couches and fire pits borders on a pocket park on the west side of the building, and a large terrace, with access from the conference room, spreads across the east side.
The patio is overlooked by four stories of floor-to-ceiling glass on the hotel's west side.
Kim Lindlof, president and CEO of the Mid-Maine Chamber, said the hotel is needed downtown, and she expects it to be a draw for visitors. She said it's also a complement to downtown development not only by Colby, but by other developers.
"It's amazing to see how quickly properties downtown are being filled by new businesses," Lindlof said. She credits the influence of the Lockwood, and other development projects.
Rowan said he's looking forward to the hotel being open, but is also happy with the way things are going now, as the pandemic restrictions lift and Waterville area residents find their way to Front & Main.
"People are eager to get out, and they've been driving past this construction site for three years," he said. "They want to come in and see it."