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April 29, 2024

Here’s how a once-rundown Portland quarry is being transformed into an upscale Nordic-style spa

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER Contractor Dean Soucy and his wife, Darlene M. Rice, in 2019 paid $300,000 for a 6.3-acre, rundown former brownstone quarry in Portland. After years of clean up and improvements, they recently sold the property for $2.5 million to a Canadian company planning a unique Nordic spa facility.

A Canadian hospitality company planning to build a chain of Nordic spas in unique settings across the U.S. has paid $2.5 million for a Portland brownstone quarry that dates back to the 1600s.

The 6.3-acre site, at 311 Brownstone Ave., was part of a larger quarry — much of it now flooded and underwater — near the Connecticut River. It was a major supplier of the rich brown sandstone that reached the height of its popularity in the late 1800s.

Major quarry operations shut down after much of the site flooded in the 1930s. A one-man operation quarried one corner for about 18 years until 2012.

Contractor Dean Soucy and his wife, Darlene M. Rice, bought the property in 2019 for $300,000. After spending more than four years reviving the rundown site, they sold it in early April to Pomeroy Lodging.

It was a nice return on investment, but it wasn’t easy money. They spent considerable funds, and even more sweat equity, reviving the rundown and littered site, which is now poised to become a spa facility that will offer a unique hydrotherapy experience.

Sweat equity

Soucy said he originally bought the property as a place to park his foundation repair business’ heavy equipment, including bulldozers, an excavator and truck.

The quarry originally listed for $1 million, but the asking price had dropped to $375,000 by the time Soucy went to see it, he said. He offered $300,000 to buy it as-is, with no extensive inspection.

A view of the Portland brownstone quarry site that took years of clean up by contractor Dean Soucy and his wife, Darlene M. Rice.

The property had an open area where he could park his vehicles, but most of it was covered by a mixture of thick brush, thorns and literally tons of garbage, most of which had been pushed over a roughly 50-foot cliff running along a border with neighboring properties. The quarry’s rear was flooded and swamped with water leaching off the cliff sides.

On one of the couple’s early visits, it took them about two hours to fight through the thicket to a point where they could get a clear view of the flooded quarry below.

Despite the wall of brush and garbage, Soucy and Rice were certain they had found a diamond in the rough.

“We were awestruck,” Rice said. “We knew we had something. We just didn’t know what we had.”

Soucy, now 65, shuttered his foundation repair company shortly after the purchase to focus on improving the quarry. The bureaucracy of a state program assisting homeowners with defective foundations had left him frustrated and stressed, he said.

The quarry gave him a passion project on which to focus. Soucy began improving the property without a clear concept or end-goal.

“It was almost like this land popped up in front of us and said: ‘Well, you have an opportunity to work,’” Soucy said.

Soucy spent months cutting brush and restoring drainage channels, as well as building pathways, small bridges and Stonehenge-like arrangements out of brownstone slabs. He worked with neighbors to clean surrounding slopes.

Soucy said he carted away dozens of tires and shopping carts, along with 1,400 pounds of milk crates, 800 pounds of glass and 22,000 pounds of other trash.

He also repaired and improved drainage structures, drying out much of the property and restoring a constantly flowing waterfall off the lower cliff. New sewer and water pipes were installed from the road.

Soucy said he “begged for and borrowed” materials to perform his renovations, including soil to level or raise portions of the site.

Meantime, Rice kept her day job as a collections manager for a local fuel company, covering the cost of groceries, insurance and other household bills. Rice visited the quarry daily after work to check on progress and help out.

The cleared brush revealed a spectacular view of the flooded quarry along one entire side of the property, prompting Rice to name the site “Quarry View.” Today, it looks like a rustic and unique park.

Landscaped terraces allow visitors to see turtles and carp swimming dozens of feet below the lip of the cliff.

Soucy and Rice eventually began generating revenue from the property by hosting events, like drum circles, craft fairs and even weddings, asking for donations and charging $10 for parking. They also rented out campsites for $100 per night.

An aerial view of the Portland brownstone quarry site.

Quarry View even hosted a funeral for a fan of the site who was killed in a car crash. Soucy made a special brownstone shelf to hold her urn and photographs during the memorial.

Soucy said he hasn’t tallied up his costs for upgrading the property. He is confident expenses far exceeded any revenue from the site. After the sale, Soucy and Rice paid off a $245,000 line of credit against their house, much of which had gone toward renovations, he said.

In 2022, Soucy and Rice added a 2,800-square-foot building near the front of the parcel. It was going to offer public bathrooms and wash facilities for campers, as well as an 800-square-foot apartment.

Soucy and Rice said they poured their hearts into upgrading the property, but didn’t want to pass the maintenance burden to their children. So, they put it up for sale in 2022.

Mark Riesbeck, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway New England, said Pomeroy Lodging representatives visited the quarry in summer 2022, then again that fall. It was under contract by November or December 2022, less than a year after it was listed.

“The Pomeroys were the only ones who wanted to preserve the natural beauty of the land,” Riesbeck said. “Their plan is built around incorporating the quarry, leveraging every aspect. There wasn’t a better buyer than them.”

Pomeroy Lodging hired Soucy and Rice as consultants, to help preserve the cut stone slabs that will be incorporated into the day spa.

First of many

Pomeroy Lodging is a hospitality company with a diverse portfolio that includes hotels, resorts and Nordic spas, mostly located in Canada. Its brands range from the more upscale Pomeroy Inn & Suites and Pomeroy Hotel Conference Centre, to a Ramada, Holiday Inn Express and even a Motel 6.

The company’s history stretches back to 1941, when founder Ralph Pomeroy purchased a hotel in Fort St. John, British Columbia.

A rendering of Pomeroy Lodging’s planned Nordic spa facility in Portland.

Work will begin in May on the Nordic spa in Portland, which will offer a type of health therapy pioneered in Canada, where participants move through cycles of hot, cold and rest.

The spa will be built around a 20,000-square-foot main bathhouse, and feature a 6,000-square-foot bistro restricted to spa customers. It will offer a waterfall, steam room, cold-plunge pools, saunas, fire pits, saltwater relaxation pools and more.

These experiences will be spread across the property in stations and structures ranging from 250 square feet to about 700 square feet, all joined by heated pathways.

“We love the environment,” said Chris Puchalla, Pomeroy’s executive vice president of real estate. “Part of the Nordic-spa experience is unique experiences in unique environments, immersed in nature.”

Puchalla said the Portland development will cost in the “double-digit millions, and not the low double-digits.” The company is self-funding the expansion, he said.

Pomeroy built its first Nordic spa at its Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Canada, a hotel it purchased in 2014, then refurbished. It opened a second spa in 2022, at the Alyeska Resort, 40 miles outside Anchorage, Alaska.

The Quarry View site in Portland was a “lucky find,” a late addition to a 2022 site tour focused on the greater New York area, Puchalla said. Company representatives liked the site’s natural beauty, as well as the quality shops and restaurants found in nearby downtown Middletown, he said.

Puchalla said the Portland Nordic spa is scheduled to open in early fall 2025. It will be the first of Pomeroy’s Nordic spa locations in the lower-48 United States.

The company has acquired a Colorado site, he said, and is in “active pursuit and design” of 15 to 20 additional sites in seven states.

The Portland spa will be a day-trip experience, drawing guests from diverse backgrounds. Prices will vary by time and day, generally ranging from $110 to $135, Puchalla said. Evening “twilight soaks” will be discounted up to 40%.

“This is an experience that caters to anyone that wants to come in and have a hydrotherapy experience, and relax, and be with friends,” Puchalla said.

Pomeroy purchased the Portland site, shortly after the town approved the project.

Puchalla said town officials were supportive, and the approval process was among the smoothest he’s experienced in his career.

Town Planner Dan Bourret said officials see this as an economic development draw for Portland.

“It’s pretty cool, we are all really excited here in town,” Bourret said. 

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