Brunswick base agency lures 'exciting new business,' eyes federal tax credits to attract others

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BATH — Just days before the scheduled announcement of a major tenant at Brunswick Naval Air Station, the agency redeveloping the base said it is considering entering a national tax credit program to lure tenants.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority board of directors met in private Tuesday at Bath City Hall to hammer out the final details of a new lease agreement with an unidentified company. On Wednesday, the agency said it would hold a press conference at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 23, at the Augusta State Airport to introduce”an exciting new business.”

The announcement is being held at Maine Instrument Flight, a charter and flight instruction service.

The agency has been targeting aviation industry tenants, in part because the base airport is expected to be one of the first assets turned over by the U.S. Navy.

The MRRA hopes to take over operations of the airfield in November. The base is scheduled for closure in May 2011, after which it will be known as Brunswick Landing.

In January, MRRA announced an agreement to bring FlightLevel Aviation, a fixed base operator, to the base. The company, which already operates at Norwood Memorial Airport in Massachusetts, will provide aircraft fueling and maintenance services in Brunswick.

Steve Levesque, MRRA executive director, has previously stated that the agency is targeting aviation businesses involved in maintenance repair and overhaul.

Given the advance notification and expected presence of state and local dignitaries, including Gov. John Baldacci, Friday’s announcement could qualify as the MRRA’s first big splash in business attraction.

The announcement could also double as salve for an aborted deal to bring Oxford Aviation to the base, a controversial effort that put the agency on the defensive and created rifts with some Brunswick town officials.

On Tuesday, MRRA members were mum about the new lease deal. Its public business meeting was instead dominated by a presentation about New Market Tax Credits, a program administered by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, a division of the U.S. Treasury.

The complex program encourages investment in projects in low-income or distressed communities by awarding tax credits. Investors can receive 39 percent of their total project investment over a seven-year period.

The highly competitive program has awarded $26 billion since being established in 2000.

Only communities identified as low income or distressed in U.S. Census tracts qualify for the program. BNAS, through what MRRA board member Charlie Spies described as an “anomaly,” is eligible for the tax credit. Spies said the base is the only qualifying area between Portland and Rockland.

In contrast, federal officials this month announced a special allocation of New Market Tax Credits for Gulf Coast areas hurt by the BP oil disaster. According to a U.S. Treasury fact sheet, the program has also been used to fund a project to open an airplane parts and manufacturer plant in rural Oklahoma, a high-tech business incubator in Detroit and the development of a charter school in south Los Angeles.

On Tuesday, Levesque said the program could become the agency equalizer in competing with other states to bring businesses to BNAS. Levesque said it is difficult for the agency to compete with Texas and Florida, where the cost of doing business is significantly lower than in Maine.

“We think this gives us a competitive advantage to compete nationally to finance projects,” he said.

It’s unclear how the 2010 U.S. Census update will impact the base’s eligibility, or how the agency’s potential requests will stack up against $200 billion in competing requests.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or