SEARSPORT — Owners of the Homeport Inn and Tavern spent nearly $400,000 this year to repair the 157-year-old house, according to Arnaund Lessard, who owns the house with his wife Allison and business partner Kip Dixon.

When they bought the house earlier this year, they knew it needed some serious maintenance, Lessard said. For many people who looked at the home it was too great a burden.

Lessard has worked in the hospitality industry, managing hotels for the last 20 years, he said. His wife has a background in commercial project management and Dixon is a professional chef. Through their combined professional experiences, they know what it takes to maintain the building, manage the inn and run a restaurant and bar out of the house.

The Homeport offers three main commodities to the community: entertainment, food and lodging, Lessard said. They wanted to fill an entertainment void they saw in the community by offering a place where people can eat food, listen to music and find relaxation in a beautiful setting.

There needs to be a keen understanding of what it will take to maintain the perpetual upkeep of the property, he said. And not many people have nearly a half-million dollars to fund all of the necessary repairs.

For the inn to be successful, the business model needs to support the home’s maintenance, which can come at a high price when the home was constructed in a completely different time period and many of the repairs require skilled workers who can customize fixtures, he said.

They installed 17 new windows, which needed to be customized to the house so they look authentic to what was originally constructed, he said. There was only one business in the area that could customize the windows, and that work came at a cost of nearly $65,000. They received a $5,000 façade grant from the town to help offset the window cost.

It is the second façade grant the town has issued this year, Gillway said, which has a $5,000 cap for businesses that apply for it in town. Those funds are used to give businesses a funding boost for projects that could translate into more economic development for the town.

A business must match the funds it is applying for and the grant can be used only for projects on street-facing walls of a building, he said. The grant is funded by a TIF district (tax increment financing). There is over $100,000 still left in the fund, enough to issue more grants well into the future.

The owners decided to focus their recent renovations on energy efficiency in the building, which is why they decided to replace the windows, Lessard said. They have invested over $100,000 in heating and cooling alone in their first year of ownership.

Homeport Inn and Tavern in Searsport. Photo by Kendra Caruso

They put heat pumps in the building, taking advantage of Efficiency Maine’s rebate program for hospitality and lodging, he said. It cost them about $145,000 to install heat pumps but they are getting about $70,000 of that back through the program.

Other upgrades include plumbing, electrical and life safety measures, which include fixing the broken fire suppression system in the restaurant, among other fixtures, he said. They replaced most of the restaurant equipment and they had a professional painting team in the building for over two months working on projects.

The business partners were putting in no less than 13 hours per day of physical labor themselves to get the inn operating this summer, he said. They were able to open the restaurant in June and started renting rooms on the Fourth of July weekend.

The 121 East Main St. home was built in 1865 for Capt. John P. Nichols, who is said to have been one of the town’s most successful ship captains at the time, according to information from the Penobscot Marine Museum.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the house is one of the county’s finest examples of Italianate architecture with an elaborate cupola, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum.

The Nichols family was prominent in the shipping industry, producing at least 27 ship captains, according to the Penobscot Marine Museum. The house later served as the home for Carleton Bryant, an admiral in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The Home Port Inn and Tavern, with an English pub style, is open from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, and offers various types of live music at night. Lessard is happy to carry the home’s story into the future, he said. It has a long and important history in the town and he feels it is a privilege to take care of the building.

“It’s a labor of love and a passion to serve,” he said. “… This, for us, is the next 20 years of our life and to ensure that this building is set up on a good track for another 100 years.”