Voters in Gray have defeated a grant critical to the future of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co. & Museum.

On the town’s ballot was a proposal to give nearly $500,000 to the nonprofit, which would help pay for the railroad’s move from Portland to Gray. The measure lost by a margin of nearly 700 votes – 2,757 in favor and 2,078 opposed. Eighty-two voters did not answer the question on their ballots.

Donnie Carroll, the railroad’s executive director, said Tuesday evening he is disappointed but not defeated.

“I would say that the options are scale back the project, slow down the project,” Carroll said. “But I don’t think there’s a feeling on the board to end the project.”

Carroll said the museum’s board of directors will meet Thursday to discuss the path forward, but he predicted the footprint of the new location would have to shrink.

“It means I’ll be doing a lot more grant research, a lot more grant writing,” Carroll said. “I’m an eternal optimist.”

The Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad offers rides in a historic passenger train along 1.5 miles of Portland’s eastern waterfront during the summer and the holiday season. But the museum must move by the end of 2017 to make way for the redevelopment of that property. After six years of searching, the museum settled on a new location on Route 100 and planned to open a new building there in 2018.

Fundraising has been slow going, however. The project will cost between $4 million and $6 million, but Carroll estimated the nonprofit has raised less than $500,000 in funds and in-kind contributions for a multimillion-dollar project. Carroll promised in a 2014 letter to the Portland Press Herald not to ask local taxpayers for money, but Gray town officials proposed the $498,000 grant to help the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad cover startup costs – land acquisition, design work and permitting fees.

The money would have come from the town’s cash reserves, meaning it would not have had a direct impact on the property tax rate. But opponents of the proposal had said they didn’t want tax dollars going to a private entity. Kathy Carroll said she was concerned that approving the measure would only lead to more tax money later on.

“We voted no,” said the 66-year-old retired school teacher as she left the polls.

Supporters argued that the railroad’s move would boost other businesses in town.

“It would be nice to not have to go to Portland for everything,” said Natalie Lytle, a 37-year-old aesthetician, after she cast her “yes” vote.