The third and fourth floors of the former Continental Bag Mill at 60 Lowell St. in Rumford are slated to be developed into hotel rooms, according to owner Kara Wilbur of Portland, principal of 60 Lowell Street LLC. Rumford Code Enforcement Officer said Richard Coulombe said the project is estimated to cost $16.7 million, which has received Planning Board approval. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — The owner of the former paper bag mill at 60 Lowell St. plans to develop 35 long-term and short-term stay hotel rooms on the third and fourth floors of the four-story brick building.

“I think that a major objective of the lodging is that it will bring a lot more people to help support potential future businesses,” said owner Kara Wilbur of Portland, principal of 60 Lowell Street LLC.

Rumford Code Enforcement Officer Richard Coulombe said the project is estimated to cost $16.7 million. He said the development has received Planning Board approval and has identified financial resources to be able to proceed with it.

Wilbur bought the property in 2021 from the River Valley Growth Council, which no longer exists. Mead Corp., a former owner of the Rumford paper mill, gave it to the council many years ago.

The first floor of the 64,000-square-foot building is vacant.

The second is occupied by a child care facility, a counseling center, a dentistry, a hair solon, the Rumford Senior Citizens Center and the Sun Journal/Rumford Falls Times newspaper.


Half of the third floor is used by the Rumford Center of the University of Maine at Augusta.

The hotel plan calls for 12 rooms on the other half of the third floor and 23 on the fourth, all with kitchens and each floor would have a laundry room.

A cafe, a restaurant, a pool, a sauna and hot tubs are also planned, Wilbur said.

She said the big move is to try to create the kind of income necessary to make the building work as lodging.

Rumford Economic Development Director George O’Keefe said the project will bring the building “to its highest and best use for the first time since 1936 when Continental Paper Bag Co. shut down.”

Rumford Economic Development Director George O’Keefe speaks Dec. 13 to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials in Maine and the owner of the former Continental Bag Mill during a tour of the partially redeveloped mill at 60 Lowell St. in Rumford. From left, USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Rhiannon Hampson, Maine USDA Rural Development Community Outreach Coordinator Morgan Hotham, Maine USDA Rural Development Public Information Officer Leigh Hallett and 60 Lowell Street LLC principal and mill owner Kara Wilbur of Portland. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

According to the Rumford Historical Society, the company was incorporated May 28, 1899, had 190 machines, with the production capacity of 17 million to 20 million paper bags every 10 hours. It employed more than 700 men, women and boys. The printing department alone employed more than 100 employees.


“I’m pretty pleased at the prospect of this building finally returning at full use for our community,” O’Keefe said. “This is a huge testament to the hard work of the River Valley Growth Council 20 years ago that made the effort to acquire this property from Mead Corp. And we are very grateful for Kara’s investment in the community.”

O’Keefe said there are three myths about the area.

“One is that we’re too far away,” he said. “Two is that everything is dependent on the mill, and three, that we’re in decline. With people outside the community, you will get a combination of those three that will produce a subtle and silent resonance to development, and that’s reality, and so we don’t try to fight it.”

O’Keefe said he believes the vision for the community should be that “it’s a place where people can thrive. The first step to provide for that is housing, but then the other piece of that is that you really have to have a really robust municipal tax base.

Rhiannon Hampson, Maine state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program, toured the mill Dec. 13 to learn more plans for its further development.

“When you think about the people who are going to be using the lodging here, what is your lodger looking like?” she asked Wilbur.


“I think it’s going to be people who were engaging in outdoor recreation for sure, and we may have some contractors,” Wilbur said. While there’s a Best Western Plus hotel at Rumford Falls “it’s sometimes full,” she said.

Last spring, 60 Lowell Street LLC secured a $500,000 Rural Energy for America grant and loan to help cover the cost of installing energy-efficient heat pump system for heating and cooling the entire building.

Revision Energy is also investing in this building, Wilbur said. “They’re going to buy solar panels and install them on the roof and operate them. So we will get discounted electricity as part of the deal.”

Last April, Wilbur said she wanted to start the roughly 18-month project in November 2023 and finish by February 2025.

She said during Hampson’s tour that in part due to high interest rates she could use another source of funding, “but not one that takes a year.”

Rapid funding sources are really hard to find, Hampson said, “especially when we’re facing endless continuing resolutions. Some of our programming is simply just not funded right now. We have programming that will not be funded until we’re on a regular continuing appropriations.”


“One of the things I would caution you about when it comes to USDA funding is that it’s just not fast,” Hampson said. “But it’s reliable and dependable.”

Among the serious challenges facing rural towns are a lack of sufficient housing and child care options, Hampson said.

“Maine needs to retain families who have spent generations calling the state home while also attracting new people, fresh perspectives, and emerging businesses,” she said. “To make this happen, we need the federal government to reinvest in the very people and communities who have spent lifetimes working hard for all of us.”

Toward that end, USDA Rural Development has delivered over $30 million for housing to rural Oxford County in the past two fiscal years, including flexible mortgages for low-income homebuyers. Oxford County residents borrowed more than $5.1 million through USDA’s Single Family Housing Direct Home Loans to purchase homes during that period, according to the USDA.

For towns like Rumford to continue to thrive, businesses need access to both private and federal capital, it said.

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