New On-Campus Hotel Rooted in UMaine History

Transposed from a news article featured on the University of Maine official website

Walking into the renovated Holmes and Coburn halls will give some visitors a sense of déjà vu. The historic buildings, built at the University of Maine in 1887–88 now serve as part of Hotel Ursa, a new independent hotel opening March 5, where they proudly display some original features and other artifacts of the university’s past. 

Rooms in both buildings feature a fresh coat of white paint, blue carpeting, queen- and king-size beds, tiled bathrooms with standing showers, TVs and minifridges, but most of the hotel is still encapsulated by the original curved windows and tin ceiling. Much of the original hardwood flooring, staircases and high-arched entryways still occupy the halls, evoking the spirit of academia from a bygone age.

The furniture in the lobby, cafe and study in Holmes Hall were crafted by artists who used wood harvested and processed by staff and student interns from UMaine University Forests from on-campus trees they felled. One of these trees was the Campana elm, a 116-year-old tree on campus that was saved by pioneering research on Dutch elm disease, but succumbed to rot and was removed in 2022. The spaces are adorned with contemporary landscape paintings from Maine artists and old photographs and memorabilia from UMaine and across the state. The lobby also features plaques depicting the night sky as seen from campus in 1888 and 2024. 

When Rod Bushway, UMaine professor emeritus of food science, toured the hotel before its opening, he was instantly reminded of what Holmes Hall used to be during his time here. As he examined the modern amenities, rustic fixtures and blend of old and new decor, he pointed out rooms that were formerly offices or labs, including his own. According to Bushway, part of the basement was a Pilot Plant, and was used to help the Maine food industry in developing new products and processing techniques. The Pilot Plant was started by Matthew Highlands.

By the end of their tour, Bushway and his wife, Judi, were making plans to book their stay at the hotel. He said he liked the modernization and repurposing of Holmes and Coburn halls and appreciated the original features that were kept. 

“I think it’ll really help the university,” Bushway said. 

Located in the heart of campus, Holmes and Coburn halls are among the oldest buildings at UMaine and are in its Historic District, officially designated as such by the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Holmes Hall was built after the university received funds from the Hatch Act of 1887, which provided federal money for agricultural experiment stations at land grant institutions. It also was once home to the Department of Chemistry. The words “experiment station” are etched in stone above the entrance and were left untouched during renovations. The first lab that Bushway occupied was built in 1955, which is where the cafe is located now. 

Coburn Hall once housed the university library, a natural history museum and the Department of Agriculture and Natural History. It still displays the words “Coburn 1887” carved in its facade above the entryway. 

Now as Hotel Ursa, the two halls and newly constructed adjacent facility on Munson Road, named Polaris Hall, offer a collective 95 rooms and suites. The cafe and bar in Holmes will provide guests and members of the university community a space to enjoy local baked goods, snacks, coffee, craft beers and wine. The hotel also offers special packages that include access to the New Balance Student Recreation Center, Maine Bound Adventure Center and more. 

Rooms in Polaris Hall are available starting March 5. Online reservations are now available

The hotel, inspired by the Ursa Major and Minor constellations and the North Star that connects them, is made possible through the first-ever public-private partnership agreement involving any of Maine’s public universities. 

In addition to preserving historic structures on campus, it will provide UMaine and the surrounding communities with high-quality, campus-based hospitality services to support events, outreach and community collaboration.

A photo of the Hotel Ursa logo

Hotel Ursa is a joint venture of Radnor Property Group, a real estate development company, and Harrison Street, an investment management firm. It’s operated by the Portland-based Olympia Hospitality. 

The public private partnership agreement for the venture, which includes a ground and building lease, was approved by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in 2021. Construction for the hotel began in September 2022

UMaine’s decision to seek requests for qualification (RFQs) for the public private partnership in historic building redevelopment, followed by requests for proposals (RFPs), came a year after a 2020 assessment of the strategic importance and long-term value of continued investment in the two structures. The report by Brailsford & Dunlavey also provided options for adaptive reuse of the historic buildings that would be in keeping with UMaine’s strategic vision. Radnor Property Group was awarded the partnership agreement in 2021.

Contact: Marcus Wolf (UMaine); 207.581.3721; [email protected]; Erica Whitten (Hotel Ursa), [email protected]; Heather Assi Antonin (Hotel Ursa), [email protected]
Read the original UMaine News article