The Inn at Diamond Cove features rooms with flat-screen TVs, gas-fired fireplaces and Wi-Fi – all the amenities a guest would expect in 2015.

But in developer David Bateman’s eyes, it might just as well be the 1890s, when Fort McKinley was built on Great Diamond Island and the large brick structure that is now the inn was a barracks housing 200 soldiers.

Looking around the parade grounds and the stately officers’ quarters, now luxury condominiums and private homes, Bateman believes the fort feels much the same as it did more than 120 years ago.

“It’s like the troops, somebody blew the whistle at noon and they walked off,” Bateman said, eying the relatively peaceful back side of the barracks, which faces the parade grounds of the former fort.

On the opposite side of the building, where guests will enter the $12 million, 42-room luxury inn, it was a much livelier scene: a small army of workers scrambled about, painting, sawing and hammering to get the inn ready for its first guests on July 10, a little more than two weeks from an opening celebration planned for Wednesday.

Construction vehicles rumbled and workers trimmed dead branches off old trees that overhang the pool area. Inside the lobby – the only addition to the original, C-shaped barracks – a worker prepared the space in the center where a stained-glass phoenix will be displayed.

The phoenix will occupy a prominent perch, just above a two-sided fireplace, and it’s an important symbol on a couple of levels, Bateman said.

First, Great Diamond Island is part of Portland and the phoenix is the city’s symbol, a recognition of Portland’s ability to rebound from devastating fires in its history. But it’s also a symbol of the inn itself, Bateman said. The original renovation of the barracks into a hotel was just a week from completion when it was gutted by a fire in November 2013.

Bateman falls silent for a few moments when asked how he heard about the blaze.

“My son, Aaron, called” around 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, he said, pausing again and looking away for a moment. “He said, ‘We just lost the inn.’ ”

The fire destroyed all the work that Bateman and his development team had done, he said, but it didn’t kill the project. He said his insurer stepped up to cover the loss and city officials allowed him to move quickly to start over. The cause of the fire was never determined.


More than 80 percent of the brick walls survived the flames, but the fire destroyed the century-old wood framing. Bateman said the wood framing was replaced by a modern and safer metal frame.

Otherwise, Bateman said, the project retained the original design of 42 rooms with decks, most of them overlooking the pool and a peaceful wooded area.

The idea is to provide a relaxed retreat for guests who will pay $300 and up for rooms. This year, the inn will likely stay open only through Columbus Day weekend, but Bateman believes that in the future corporate groups could be attracted later into the fall.

He said some rooms are already booked for September and early October, an increasingly popular time for tourists to come to Maine.

Explaining the $12 million cost to rebuild, Bateman points to features such as a new slate roof – which cost about $1 million on its own. The inn simply wouldn’t have looked right built with less-expensive materials, he said.

He said the design of many rooms limits natural light, so the extra-wide doors to the balconies feature large glass panes to let the sunshine in.

The cabinets in the rooms were built in a shop in West Minot, Bateman said, partly because he wanted as much work done in-state as possible, but also because having the furniture made nearby gave him the flexibility to check on the progress and make adjustments as needed.

Many of the rooms have kitchens, in case guests want a break from eating at the onsite restaurant or at the highly rated Diamond’s Edge restaurant, a short walk away in Diamond Cove. Most of the rooms are adjoining, allowing guests to book additional space for large family gatherings, with foldout couches in living rooms. The deck space will feature removable dividers to give guests as much or as little outside privacy as they want.


The pampering will start as soon as guests arrive in Portland, Bateman said. Those driving can park at the Portland Harbor Hotel, another Bateman-owned property, and those coming by plane will be shuttled to the downtown hotel from the airport. Inn guests can check in at the hotel and their luggage will be taken to the island while the guests explore the Old Port or have lunch in town, Bateman said. The guests can head to the island by water taxi, ferry or the Joseph S. Kennedy, a former Navy utility boat. Bateman’s family development company is one of the partners that brought the boat to Portland to provide charter runs to the inn along with recreational and historical tours of Casco Bay.

Bateman said a lot of the property on the island has been set aside for conservation, but added that he isn’t done redeveloping the old fort buildings. He shows off the former fort hospital, almost hidden behind a growth of shrubs and trees. Many of the windows are broken and a wrap-around deck is crumbling, but he sees potential in the structure as an adjunct of the inn.

The fort has come a long way since Bateman purchased the property in the early 1980s.

“I literally had to hack my way in with a bulldozer” to reach the buildings, which were added to the National Register of Historic Places. That designation gives Bateman tax credits while limiting his ability to substantially alter the exterior of the structures, which suits him just fine.

“It’s kind of like turning back time a little bit,” he said.