After 10 years, job creation at former Brunswick base exceeds expectations

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FREEPORT — The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority discussed a decade of achievements and future goals at its 10th annual meeting on Wednesday evening at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Executive Director Steve Levesque provided a recap of the group’s major milestones over the course of the past 10 years, focusing on its redevelopment of Brunswick Landing, Topsham Commerce Park and Brunswick Executive Airport.  

Levesque outlined the difficult task MRRA was faced with in the mid-2000s, when converting the former Brunswick Naval Air Station into Brunswick Landing, the business campus now home to several companies, and the Brunswick Executive Airport.

“There were some scary days back when I came on in 2006,” he said. “They said ‘How are you going to deal with this?’ And I said, ‘One bite at a time.'”

Levesque added that redeveloping a military base came with its own set of unique challenges, and the original decision not to sell the property to a developer also required a lot of thought. He said the team knew the area might have gotten caught in limbo if it sold, especially when the recession hit.

“We made a decision in 2007,” Levesque said. “We could’ve gone out to bid in 2007… people might’ve bought the property, but sat on it for 10 or 15 years.”

Levesque said MRRA’s three major redevelopment projects have created more than 1,500 jobs, 103 businesses and generated $3 million in tax revenue.

At a board of trustees meeting before the dinner, Levesque said the number of jobs created has far exceeded his original hopes for Brunswick Landing.

“Our projections (for employment) was around 700 jobs,” he said. “So we’ve doubled where we thought we’d be in job creation.” 

He added that one of Brunswick Landing’s short-term goals is to recover the level of civilian employment that was present at the time the U.S. Navy base was operating. 

In addition to the airport and industrial space, Brunswick Landing is also home to TechPlace, which opened in 2015 and provides office space for start-ups and early-stage companies. The facility houses 35 companies and employs 100 people.

Late last month, STARC Systems, one of the first companies to move into TechPlace two years ago, expanded into its own 16,000-square-foot building down the street, making it what Levesque calls TechPlace’s first “graduate.” 

Levesque also reported Brunswick Landing’s 1.5 megawatt solar farm installed at the end of the summer now generates 70 percent of the energy used on the business campus. He said his goal is for the site to eventually be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Keynote speaker Bryant Monroe, of the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, said three awards were also given out to businesses operating at Brunswick Landing. 

FirstLight Brunswick Data Center won in the large business category. Composites Engineering Research Lab was recognized as the most innovative micro business, and Priority Real Estate Group was named Developer of the Year, which is a new category. The real estate firm is one of Brunswick Landing’s most active investors, having redeveloped five former Navy buildings so far.

In closing, Levesque said the success of the redevelopment projects was a collaborative effort, and would not have been possible without help from many outside sources, including town administration in Brunswick and Topsham, the OEA and the Navy.

“Projects of this size do not happen in isolation,” he said. “For me, there’s nothing more gratifying than accomplishing great things as part of a team.” 

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

A display at Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority’s 10th annual dinner and meeting in Freeport on Nov. 15 shows statistics and information about the group’s major initiatives.

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