St. John Entrepreneurs’ Dream of Running Scenic Maine Inn Survive Legal Nightmare

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The Essay Contest Is Over! Rose and Prince Adams, formerly of St. John, have completely reopened the Center Lovell Inn, above, which they won in an essay contest.

 CENTER LOVELL, ME — The dream of winning a charming inn and restaurant in the heart of Maine almost became a waking nightmare, but the fairy tale is finally coming true for former St. John hosts Prince and Rose Adams.

“We’re up and running; we started about four weeks ago,” Rose told St. John Tradewinds on Saturday, Sept. 5, of the operation of the seven-room inn as she prepared for the first night operating the inn’s restaurant. “The lodging was good, steady.”

The New York couple had settled on St. John and opened the popular Sweet Plaintains restaurant on the shore of Coral Harbor where they were making a name for themselves as hosts while raising their son.

Rose, with a strong resort culinary background, was running a creatively renowned kitchen and Prince had made a name for himself as a mixologist with a very hospitable bar, when Prince entered an essay contest to win an historic seven-room inn and restaurant in scenic Center Lovell, Maine.

After being informed their essay about their life and work on St. John had been chosen from more than 7,000 other contest entries, the couple faced a tight timetable of reopening the Maine inn and restaurant by early July for the summer season and they packed up as fast as they could and walked away from their waterfront restaurant lease on Coral Bay.

Restaurant Finally Opens
Although they are still waiting for their container of clothing and possessions to arrive from St. John, Rose reported to St. John Tradewinds on Saturday, Sept. 5, the Adams were busy with last-minute preparations to finally open the inn’s restaurant.

The owner of the Center Lovell Inn, who also had won the inn through an essay contest, received 7,255 entries for the contest, which at $125 each yielded her $906,875, according to a Maine State Police investigation, the Portland, Maine, Press Herald reported.

Janice Sage, who won a similar essay contest in 1993, had announced in early 2015 she would be conducting a similar contest. A 200-word essay would determine who would win ownership of the restaurant and inn, which has seven guest rooms and views of the White Mountains and Kezar Lake.

Sage set a limit of 7,500 entries, with the net proceeds intended to pay for her retirement.

Complaints and Police Investigation
Prince and Rose’s essay was chosen as the winner, but almost immediately unsuccessful entrants complained that the contest hadn’t been run properly, according to a Press Herald newspaper report.

Complaints disputed that the winning essay was the best of those submitted and speculated that Sage and the Adams may have known each other prior to the contest, the newspaper reported in early July.

The complaints prompted a weeklong state police investigation and The Portland Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access request for a copy of the investigation.

The complete investigation, contained in a binder about an inch thick, was considered investigative and intelligence information and that releasing it could constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Parr told the newspaper. Therefore the information is not considered a public record, he said.

Parr did, however, provide a copy of the investigation narrative in which the names of the people involved, including the essay judges, had been redacted, according to the newspaper report.

Competition Called Meticulous
The investigation, based on interviews with several of the people involved, describes a meticulous competition process that included Sage reading every essay, according to the newspaper.

“She has the calloused elbows to prove it,” said the investigation narrative, prepared by Barry Hathaway, an inspector with the State Police Special Investigations Unit.

Sage did not open any of the entry envelopes when they arrived, the narrative said. Initially, she had another person open the envelopes, assign each essay a number, enter the author’s name and contact information in a register and send them a receipt, the report explained.

As the contest progressed and more entries arrived, Sage brought in more help and eventually had five people processing the mail, the report continued. The only rule Sage changed over the course of the contest was to extend it for an additional 30 days, which was permissible under the rules, according to officials.

Sage chose the top 20 essays, and then selected two judges to pick the first, second and third-place entries, according to the report. The judges’ names were redacted from the report but they were identified as a man and a woman, according to the newspaper report. They wrote the winning numbers on a slip of paper and gave it to Sage, the report said.

Initial Confusion
At first, Sage couldn’t find the corresponding name in the registration materials so she had to seek help from the girl who had filed it, the report said the police investigation determined.

Prince Adams told police that someone else, possibly his wife, reads the New York Times daily and saw a story about the contest, the newspaper report explained. Adams old police he eventually entered their essay and said he learned on June 6 that they had won, according to the report, which affirmed the Adams had never met or spoken with Sage before then.

Not everyone is satisfied the contest was handled fairly, according to the Press Herald report.

Kass Stone, an American living in London, told the Maine newspaper in an email that Sage did make contact at some point to clear up some confusion with their entry form. Stone said that at the time, it wasn’t clear that contact between Sage and entrants was prohibited, and that Sage wasn’t supposed to know the identities of essay writers.

The investigation concluded that the contest was conducted legally and that Sage did nothing wrong, the newspaper reported. The contest was a game of skill and therefore not regulated by state law covering games of chance and it did not violate any consumer protection laws, according to the police narrative. It also wasn’t a game in which the operator controls the outcome, the police report concluded.