Efforts to bring bus tours to Eastport took a significant step forward with the decision by the Eastport Port Authority board to purchase a parcel in downtown Eastport both to serve as the port authority's office and to provide public bathrooms, which are needed for any motorcoach tours. At a special meeting on December 6 the board voted to purchase the Gordon Greenlaw property at the head of the breakwater for $200,000. The land will be used to construct a new office building for the port authority that will also include a welcome center with public bathrooms. The sale was expected to be completed by December 13.
Port Director Chris Gardner says that, with the discussions by the Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce on the need for public bathrooms, the port authority moved forward more quickly with plans for a new office building so it could provide them. "The port authority is here to solve needs," he says. "We heard a lot of clamoring from the community that things need to happen, and this is an opportunity for the port authority to step up and accomplish a lot of things at once."
Gardner notes that the new location will make the port authority more visible. While it serves boaters and fishermen, the port authority has its present office on Madison St., in a location that calls to mind the saying "You can't get there from here," notes Gardner.
With the port authority working with other groups in the community, the building also will be able to serve as a welcome center for cruise ships and motorcoaches. Showers for boaters are also a possibility. In addition, Gardner says the port authority will offer the chamber of commerce space for its office. "We want to partner with all in the community with an interest in this -- the chamber, the city," he says.
"It gives more to the downtown area and ties it all together," Gardner says. "It really increases our offerings."
The new building will be located at the head of the breakwater near the sewer pumping station. The office will follow the angle of the bank so that it partly faces the inner basin. Concerning parking, Gardner says that the port authority recently revamped the parking on the breakwater so that vehicles park at an angle and more can be accommodated. It's possible some parking could be added next to the office building.
While initial discussions with the city have not indicated any issues, Gardner notes that the port authority will be proceeding with seeking approval from the planning board. Drawings will be available to the public, so they will have the opportunity to see the plans before construction begins. Under a best case scenario, the building could be ready by next summer, Gardner says.
The port authority does not have any plans for the Greenlaw house on the property, and Gardner says it may be placed back on the market. The port authority would look "to repurpose" its present office building.
"I think it's most exciting," says Meg Keay, president of the Eastport Area Chamber of Commerce, about the plans. The chamber has been working on getting public bathrooms downtown for the past five years, and other groups had worked on the project before that. Last winter the city, at the urging of the chamber, applied for a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant for a visitor center with public bathrooms on Sullivan St., with matching funds being pledged by the chamber, businesses and the port authority. The application was unsuccessful, though.
Keay notes that public bathrooms are a number one concern for motorcoach operators. "We can't have buses without public bathrooms," she says, noting that the bus tours will "help with the economic base for Eastport." According to figures provided by the Maine Office of Tourism, if one motorcoach came through Eastport, and it was on a multi‑day trip, it would have the potential to generate over $9,360 in the local economy, Keay says. Single‑day trippers will generate about half that amount.
Keay notes, "We do not have the facilities yet for overnights, but just being able to have buses come through and stop in Eastport could have a major impact on the downtown economy, as there are many motorcoach companies planning trips, and once they plan their tours, some could multiply into numerous trips per company."
The Maine Motorcoach Network is planning to have a familiarization tour stop by Eastport next August, with tour planners for different bus companies checking out the feasibility of having buses stop at Eastport. This past fall a similar familiarization tour stopped in Eastport, as part of collaborative efforts by Charlotte Coastal Regional Tourism Association and Downeast Acadia Regional Tourism.