ELLSWORTH — As part of a broader push to spur economic growth, city councilors voted last week to purchase the Community Health and Counseling Services building on Water Street for use as a business incubator.
After spending about a half-hour in a closed-door session at their Nov. 16 meeting, councilors approved the purchase price of $125,000 for the building at 415 Water St. and the six-tenths of an acre of land it sits on.
They also approved spending up to $30,000 for property and building improvements, and up to an additional $25,000 for first-year operation costs.
The total amount — up to $180,000 — will come from the proceeds of the recent sale of the former Collier’s Nursing Home.
City Manager David Cole said the sale must be completed within 60 days of a purchase and sale agreement being signed, meaning the transaction will likely be wrapped up by early January.
The building will be owned and maintained by the city, but city officials said operation of the business incubator will be a partnership between the city and Ellsworth Business Development Corp. (EBDC). They said EBDC is the “economic development arm of the city,” and credited the organization with making the idea of a business incubator a reality.
The idea behind a business incubator is to give start-up or emerging businesses a physical space in which to operate. As with other incubators, the idea is to give them a start until they are ready to make the move. City officials hope that when that time comes, the businesses will choose to make Ellsworth their permanent home.
City and EBDC officials also see it as a space where business owners can gain knowledge they might not be able to get on their own by talking with and learning from other tenants in the business incubator space.
“It’s a building, but it’s so much more than that,” said Micki Sumpter, economic development director for the city and a member of EBDC.
Cole said it is particularly helpful for start-up businesses “to have peer support.”
No tenants have been officially confirmed for the business incubator yet, as the council only recently approved the purchase. The city has heard from interested parties, however, according to Cole.
Exactly how many budding businesses might be able to use the space depends on the needs of the tenants secured. Cole said the city is particularly looking for “knowledge-based businesses.” He estimated there is about 5,000 square feet of usable space in the building, including a section of finished basement.
When tenants are secured and in place, they will pay to use the space. That money will then be put in a fund that will allow the business incubator to be self-sustaining.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the business incubator project should contact Sumpter by calling 669-6655 or by sending her an email at [email protected]
Cole said city officials went down and looked at the Community Health building before asking the council to approve the purchase. He said that although the building is about 50 years old, it is structurally sound.
“It’s in good shape,” he said. “It’s solid. We went right up into the rafters to look at it.”
Cole said the health services agency will be moving to a location on Christian Ridge Road once the sale is finalized.
The business incubator will be called the Union River Center for Innovation. Sumpter said that name was chosen by EBDC members before it was known where the incubator would be. The fact that it ended up being on the shore of its namesake, she said, is a coincidence — albeit a pleasant one.
Aside from its location, city officials hope that a strong selling point of the business incubator will be its high-speed Internet connection.
The city is in the midst of a project that will see three miles worth of fiber lines installed in the city’s commercial core, on Water, Church and High streets, and one end of the line will be at the Union River Center for Innovation.