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How one Maine town reinvented itself after its biggest employer left — Midcoast — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

How one Maine town reinvented itself after its biggest employer left — Midcoast — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Beth Brogan | BDN

Beth Brogan | BDN

A two-story rooftop aquaponics greenhouse will present fish and greens for chef Cara Stadler’s eating places Tao Yuan, adjoining to the greenhouse, in addition to Bao Bao Dumpling Home and Lio, each in Portland.

By Beth Brogan, BDN Employees •
November 15, 2018 1:00 am

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Guests in Brunswick this vacation season will discover the town bustling prefer it hasn’t in years, hearkening again greater than a decade in the past to when Brunswick Naval Air Station was at its peak.

Heading into town alongside Nice Road, the Portland Diocese is constructing a 15,000-square-foot multipurpose constructing at St. John the Baptist Church and Catholic Faculty.

A couple of blocks away throughout the road, a two-story rooftop aquaponic greenhouse rises over Tao Yuan, the primary of three eating places opened by chef Cara Stadler, a five-time semifinalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef Award. Stadler plans to boost fish and crops for Tao Yuan and her two Portland eating places, Bao Bao Dumpling Home and Lio Restaurant, within the greenhouse.

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A brief stroll from there’s Maine Road — the place all of the storefronts are full. On the north finish of Maine Road, overlooking the Androscoggin River, the 125,000-square-foot Fort Andross Mill Complicated is filled with artists, eating places, a fitness center and a number of other companies — absolutely leased for the primary time in many years, based on town officers.

Beth Brogan | BDN

Beth Brogan | BDN

One among 4, three-story residence halls being constructed alongside Park Row at Bowdoin School. Doug Prepare dinner, spokesman for the school, stated the brand new dorms are usually not because of elevated enrollment however as an alternative “a need to enhance housing options for juniors and seniors.”

On the south finish, Bowdoin School is constructing 4 three-story residence halls alongside Park Row and renovating different buildings into scholar housing — a choice not as a consequence of elevated enrollment however to “a need to enhance housing options for juniors and seniors,” a spokesman stated Thursday.

In the meantime, the 30,000-square-foot Roux Middle for the Surroundings, on the location of the previous Kappa Sigma fraternity — was open for the beginning of the autumn semester, and work continues on a serious venture at Whittier Area that included rerouting Pine Road to make room for a brand new locker room facility.

Beth Brogan | BDN

Beth Brogan | BDN

The 30,000-square-foot Roux Middle for the Surroundings opened at Bowdoin School, on the location of the previous Kappa Sigma fraternity, in time for courses to start this fall.

In the meantime, work continues on a brand new 70,000-square-foot elementary faculty, which broke floor final month on the website of the previous Jordan Acres Faculty on Jordan Avenue, a manageable stroll from Maine Road.

Regardless of the excessive worth tags and visibility of those tasks, improvement farther east — on the former Brunswick Naval Air Station — is the driving drive behind a lot of the town’s financial progress.

When federal officers voted in 2005 to shut Brunswick Naval Air Station — at the moment the state’s second-largest employer — town and redevelopment officers knew that advertising the property needed to start nicely prematurely of the Might 2011 closing ceremony.

Redevelop and reinvent

Regardless of the spectacular facility handed over to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the entity charged with redeveloping the bottom — resurfaced runways, refurbished housing, airplane hangars and townhouses — the influence of dropping four,500 sailors and their households, in addition to about 700 civilian staff, hit exhausting throughout a number of elements of the group.

The thriving air base shortly shrank to a quiet ghost town of vacant buildings and runways, and public faculties braced for lean occasions. Companies of all sizes, from Borders to Pleasant’s and Previous Navy to Talbot’s, closed seemingly in a single day.

Then, in 2008 the inventory market crashed, and residential developments all through town have been placed on maintain.

By September 2011, 4 months after the final jets flew out of Brunswick, Levesque had 10 corporations doing enterprise at Brunswick Touchdown — the brand new identify for the previous base — and MRRA had been named that yr’s recipient of the Maine Improvement Basis’s Champion of Financial Improvement.

Fast turnaround

The tempo at which the as soon as empty Navy base has been repopulated stunned everybody, stated Brunswick Town Supervisor John Eldridge, who served because the town’s finance director on the time of the closure.

“I think the expectation was that it would come back at some point, but the turnaround has been quicker than I think people had imagined,” Eldridge stated Tuesday. “Certainly, we’re grateful for that.”

Courtesy of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority

Courtesy of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority

SaviLinx, a customer support and tech help middle at Brunswick Touchdown, presently employs 200 individuals within the former quarterdeck on the previous Brunswick Naval Air Station.

By 2016 — which, Linda Smith, Brunswick’s financial improvement director, describes as “the turning point,” the previous Navy lodge had been renovated into an assisted dwelling complicated. SaviLinx, a customer support and tech help middle, had moved into the previous Quarterdeck, the place it now employs 200. Southern Maine Group School had opened a department at Brunswick Touchdown, and now occupies 5 buildings, and Molnlycke Well being Care now operates from a brand new 80,000 square-foot constructing.

That very same yr, Wayfair opened a name middle at Brunswick Touchdown — it now employs 500 individuals, in accordance with Levesque — UHaul bought 186,000 sq. ft of vacant area on the former Arrowhead Plant, and there wasn’t a vacant storefront downtown.

Courtesy of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority

Courtesy of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority

Boston-based e-commerce firm Wayfair operates a contact middle for gross sales and buyer help from a 40,000-square-foot constructing at Brunswick Touchdown. About 500 individuals work within the middle, in line with redevelopment officers.

However even 2016 pales compared to the event Brunswick, each on and off the previous base, has seen up to now yr.

“It’s the busiest it’s been since 2006,” stated Jeff Emerson, Deputy Chief of Hearth Prevention on the Brunswick Hearth Division, who can also be answerable for inspecting buildings for compliance with life security and different codes.

In line with an Oct. 12 report from Levesque to the MRRA board of trustees, the TechPlace incubator at Brunswick Touchdown at present homes 35 corporations. Elsewhere on the previous base, almost 600,000 sq. ft are beneath lease to greater than 65 companies, and MRRA has bought greater than 400 acres of land and 45 buildings, with almost 120 personal and public entities doing enterprise at Brunswick Touchdown.

“The development effort has realized over $350M in private and public-sector investments made into the properties over the past four years,” Levesque wrote.

Brunswick Government Airport has seen a 10 % annual improve in airport operations because it opened in 2011 and is on monitor to log 20,000 plane visits by the top of 2018, Levesque stated.

Domino impact

Levesque stated Friday that with almost 1,800 individuals working at Brunswick Touchdown and its housing at close to capability, it’s possible the redevelopment has been the most important issue driving improvement outdoors the previous base as properly.

“I think certainly the amount of activity that’s occurred at Brunswick Landing has stimulated, obviously, development in the area, just as the closure [of the base] went the other way,” Levesque stated Friday.

Whereas Levesque has earned quite a few awards for excellence in redeveloping the previous Navy base, he credit a group, together with a number of key buyers, with the success of the redevelopment.

Auburn developer George Schott bought greater than 400 models of former army housing from the Navy in 2010 after which strategically launched them on the market so the market wouldn’t sag, Smith stated. Levesque stated Schott invested “probably well over $20 million to $25 million” at Brunswick Touchdown.

And Jim Howard of The Precedence Group has been “very aggressive” in “adopting” Brunswick Touchdown, Levesque stated.

Howard, who graduated from Mt. Ararat Excessive Faculty in Topsham and nonetheless lives within the town throughout the Androscoggin, stated Tuesday that he’s invested roughly $45 million at Brunswick Touchdown and one other $10 million within the close by Prepare dinner’s Nook space. And there’s extra to return, he stated, together with a $15 million, 40,000-square-foot medical constructing; a brand new financial institution; and a 7,000-square-foot baby care facility anticipated to open by the top of 2019.


Maybe most notably, Howard is discussing with town officers and native residents constructing roughly $18 million in rental housing — 150 one- and two-bedroom flats — on the brand new connector street between Brunswick Touchdown and Route 24, development of which is about to start Dec. 1.

“We’ll invest another $45 million over the next 30 months,” he stated.

The street was permitted by the town council to lower congestion alongside the primary roads of Prepare dinner’s Nook and permit visitors to maneuver extra simply out and in of Brunswick Touchdown, Eldridge stated Tuesday. He stated the $2.5 million value of the 1,500 square-foot street, with alerts at Gurnet Street and Admiral Fitch Drive, can be shared by state ($800,000), the redevelopment authority ($200,000), and roughly $1.5 million in town b0nds, which Eldridge stated officers anticipate might be repaid by funds from the Brunswick Touchdown tax-increment financing plan.

Howard stated his determination to pursue improvement on the base, and rental housing particularly, was spurred by what “we” wanted in “our” town.

“Part of the motivation was the fact that we needed to develop Brunswick Landing in order to continue to make the community financially strong,” he stated. “We lost 5,000 military personnel and 600 civilian jobs, and after that Cook’s Corner started to lose businesses. You don’t really know how to [begin] … You see all that land and all of those empty buildings and think, ‘If we could get people to pay attention to them.’ … with 88 buildings, you start with the first one, and then the second one. Then there’s a tipping point and we needed services to take care of people on the property. Now we need housing to take care of them. And with the folks who own the housing now converting from rentals to condos, we’re going to get the rentals we need … For all the buildings we had out there, there are none left.”

“It sounds like a cliche, but we’re all in it together,” Howard stated. “We all live in the community, and if we all work on the community … we feel pretty fortunate that we get to do all that we do for the community.”

His foray into rental models derives, partially, from the acquisition of roughly 400 former Navy housing models by Brunswick Touchdown Ventures, which plans to transform present housing into condominiums and construct new models as properly, in accordance with Levesque.

Actual property agent Sue Spann informed the Forecaster in June that the one-story condominiums can be listed for $290,000, whereas three-bedroom models would record for $325,000.

A lot of the event at Brunswick Touchdown is aided by a tax-increment financing settlement that shifts half of latest property tax advantages to MRRA and half to tasks inside the TIF improvement program, in accordance with Eldridge.

Between the TIF and a current revaluation, each Town Assessor Justin Hennessey and Edridge stated any direct comparability of the town’s valuation previous to the closure and at this time can be at greatest “a wild guess.” Each stated that because the Navy paid no property taxes in any respect, any improve is a win.

And business and residential tasks within the space might be on the tax rolls. Amongst them, a 20,000-square-foot enlargement of the Tub Iron Works Hardings Plant, a 5,000-square-foot pressing care facility and the current buy of the previous Gilman Electrical Provide by John Snell of Jaiden Landscaping.

Even the house owners of the long-stagnant Prepare dinner’s Nook Purchasing Middle are planning redevelopment, Eldridge stated, though he declined to be extra particular. And Smith stated Merrymeeting Plaza, simply throughout Tub Street from Brunswick Touchdown, simply landed a brand new seafood restaurant, though she, too, stated she couldn’t disclose specifics.

Again nearer to the town middle, condominium tasks that stalled across the time of the market crash have begun to resurface. The primary, 24 models at Brunswick Station, are absolutely occupied, Eldridge stated. An 11-unit challenge off McKeen Road, quiet since 2006, is shifting ahead once more, and developer Invoice Moore’s Spruce Meadow housing off Previous Brunswick Street is “selling pretty well,” Town Planner Jared Woolston stated.

In the meantime, Levesque estimated payroll at Brunswick Touchdown at $100 million — not the $130 million it was when BNAS was “fully humming,” he stated, however far past preliminary projections that at this level roughly 800-900 individuals would have jobs there.

“There were deep fears,” stated Smith, who began as financial improvement director in 2014. Smith describes starting her place on the time “after people had gotten past the classic grieving stages” of the bottom closure.

However pointing to the efforts by so many collaborators, she stated, “These are all the little pieces [that make you think], ‘If that hadn’t happened, some of that gloom and doom might have played out.’”