BERLIN — While people in the Mount Washington Valley worry over the effects of short-term rentals on local residents and the housing market, just an hour to the north, the city of Berlin faces a different kind of housing shortage that it hopes short-term rentals can help solve.
Once a manufacturing hub of the North Country, the city has struggled to reinvent its economy since most paper mills shut down 20 years ago.
Camoin Associates, an economic development consulting firm hired last year by the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority to create an economic development and marketing strategy for the city, came back with a plan to develop a tourist economy there. And last week the authority approved a proposal to retain Camoin again to generate lodging prospects for the city.
The plan builds on recent successes Berlin has had in attracting tourists to ride ATVs, hike, bike, hunt, fish and paddle.
As in the Mount Washington Valley, hiking has long been an attraction north of the Notch, as has hunting and fishing. But ATV recreation has been a particularly strong area of growth in recent years, with hundreds of miles of ATV trails in the Ride the Wilds network, two major ATV festivals in recent years, and ATV-friendly programs in Berlin and Gorham that include allowing the vehicles on some roads to access services in downtown Berlin and Gorham.
But what Berlin lacks is the tourism infrastructure to make that economy run — things like restaurants, entertainment, and, particularly, lodging. That’s where short-term rentals come in.
To accomplish that goal quickly, Camoin is recommending the city to work with property owners on marketing short-term rentals through services like AirBnB or VRBO, while at the same time it works to attract more traditional lodging facilities.
Camoin Associates is a nationwide development consulting firm, headquartered in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., with offices in Cambridge, Mass.
It was hired by the Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority last February to prepare the economic development and marketing strategy for the city, which it completed in October.
The plan identified significant opportunities for the city in the outdoor recreation and tourism industry, noting Berlin’s proximity to trails, rivers and mountains, and urged the city to look to attract a modern, name-brand hotel to increase tourist visits, overnight stays and spending.
Camoin would reach out to commercial developers who specialize in lodging to assess their investment interest in Berlin. From a list of anywhere from 50 to 200 firms, Camoin will reach out to each developer’s key executive with the expectation of coming up with three to five developers interested in talking to Berlin officials.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said Camoin’s fee is $8,590. That fee will cover developer research, industry trends, market research and summaries that will include developers’ perception of Berlin and what Berlin can do better.
Camoin will also receive $1,000 for each interested developer that schedules a phone call with Berlin officials. Prior to a call, the city will receive a meeting profile that will include background information on the developer.
Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority member Peter Higbee said he was in favor of accepting the proposal. He said the information will be valuable.
City Manager James Wheeler agreed, saying the feedback from developers who choose not to pursue lodging in Berlin would also be invaluable.
The board approved the proposal from Camoin.
Another recommendation of the study was to form a business attraction team to meet with businesses considering Berlin as a location.
The plan said the team should be well-versed in workforce, training, financing, real estate inventory, state and local regulations.
Authority board member Jay Poulin suggested interviewing people who have developed properties in Berlin or tried to develop here to see what criteria they would like to see on the team.
Wheeler proposed creating a roster that would allow the authority or the city to tailor the team for a specific business.