The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA, the state agency charged with redeveloping the base now the Navy has left Brunswick) is in the news a lot recently. In mid-October, New Hampshire news outlets led with news that Kestrel Aircraft, one of the plums landed by MRRA to lead in jobs creation out on Brunswick Landing, was now considering Berlin NH as its composites manufacturing location.
Then on October 19th local reporters (Emily Guerin for the Forecaster, and Beth Brogan with the Times Record) broke the news that significant portions of the government financing that would have supported Kestral’s full operation in Brunswick had fallen through. The specifics of the “new market” tax credit program required that it be targeted for an area either more rural or more more distressed than Brunswick. Berlin is both. Kestral hoped to get about $39million from this program, but has received only $7.8million; it appears ineligible for more.
But today, October 20th, the Portland Press reports that the State Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Commissioner George Gervais believes he has lined up another source of financing. We’ll be told the details next week; all we can do now is cross our fingers. All three news reports are available on this site under categories/MRRA.
This situation illustrates three important points. The first is that the redevelopment is a long haul process. As my remarks to the MRRA board excerpted below show, “the road from vision to implementation is bumpy.” Second, any development premised primarily on public financing is fraught with well intentioned qualification hurdles that will slow the process down. Third, we cannot put all our eggs in one basket. Kestel is a plum, but we need more than one. At this point, the Molnlycke wound care manufacturing facility, another plum, is not in the news. A good thing.
MRRA meets monthly, but in a different community each month; this is an effort to showcase the regional nature of the redevelopment effort. At their monthly meeting held in Brunswick at Maine Street Station on Nov. 19, 2009, I delivered these remarks:
“Welcome back to Brunswick and to Maine Street Station. As you know—some more intimately than others— Maine Street Station is a joint development between the town of Brunswick and a private developer, JHR.
I see the re-development and renaissance of Maine St. Station as a microcosm of what MRRA faces with the re-birth and re-invention of the property that used to be known as Naval Air Station Brunswick.
Like the BLRA (MRRA’s predecessor before the base closure process started in earnest), Maine St. Station first had to define itself: to create a vision of what could be, and what should be, with input from the community. The road here from vision to implementation has been bumpy. We learned—once again—that consensus in defining a problem is easy, but consensus in choosing a solution is difficult.
Like MRRA, Maine Street Station faced expensive environmental problems.
Like MRRA, Maine Street Station struggled with prickly federal bureaucracies over funding. Last spring we walked a tightrope for nearly three months over the question of nearly a million dollars in grant money. Money that we’d counted on. In the end we got it.
Like MRRA, Maine Street Station has relied in some cases on the strength of our congressional delegation.
Like MRRA, Maine Street Station is challenged with the most difficult economic times of a generation.
Like MRRA, Maine Street Station is a partnership between private interests and local government. Partnerships can be difficult. The separate interests of the two partners sometimes conflict.
And yet here we are. Each time I return something has changed for the better: it may be something as small as a just completed sidewalk, or a sign in a doorway saying “opening soon,” or as empowering as seeing the overflow crowds downstairs at Scarlet Begonias.
At our joint workshop here in this room in October you spoke about vacancies on the MRRA board. Afterward, I joked with Sen. Gerzofsky that I should quit the town council and audition for a spot with MRRA. He told me that wouldn’t work because my view is too parochial: too Brunswick centered.
Now if BIW were to close, it would be bad for Maine and bad for Brunswick: however, it would devastate Bath. If LL Bean were to fail Brunswick would suffer greatly, but it would catastrophic for Freeport. So it’s equally obvious that Brunswick and Topsham are at the Bull’s-eye: we are at ground zero. This is our hometown.
I hope you will excuse us if, occasionally, it seems that folks from Brunswick, its council in particular, seem to press a little bit harder.
But we are also lucky in that the departure of the Navy does not leave us truly alone. We have economic diversity: we also have LL Bean, BIW, two fine hospitals, Downeast energy and a nearly full industrial park.
Perhaps most important, and getting back to the question of partnerships, we have, and have had for more that 200 years, Bowdoin College. Bowdoin College has weathered every single economic crisis in the history of this country. While farming, textiles, the Dennison Box Company, shoe manufacturing, paper manufacturing and finally the Navy have come and gone, Bowdoin College has survived and thrived.
Just as Bowdoin and Brunswick have partnered to be among the first to turn lights on here at Maine Street Station, I expect Bowdoin will be among the first to turn the lights back on at the base once the Navy has turned out theirs.
Welcome back to Brunswick; we hope to see more of you. We want your help, and we want to help you. Thank you.”