BRUNSWICK — Just days after learning that rail lines in Brunswick could become a direct link to Portland, Boston and points south, the Town Council on Monday voted unanimously to turn over management of a new welcome center and train station to the Brunswick Downtown Association.
The council ratified a two-year lease with the BDA, which will run the center at Maine Street Station. The decision also empowers the BDA to create new branding and marketing strategies that town officials say will result from the extension of the Amtrak Downeaster, which currently runs passenger service between Portland and Boston.
The extension has been discussed for years, but last week it received a jolt following an announcement that the Obama administration was awarding a $35 million grant to fund 30 miles of track improvements. The track rehabilitation had been a key obstacle in bringing the Downeaster to Brunswick.
The town is the master tenant of the train station. The management agreement with the BDA was originally scheduled for ratification in December, but the council postponed its vote following a report that the BDA had allowed its non-profit status to lapse with the state.
Originally, Town Manager Gary Brown said the BDA’s reinstatement as a Maine non-profit would be a condition of approval. But on Monday, Brown said the town would be unaffected by the BDA’s tax status.
“We checked with the town attorney and it doesn’t impact us one way or another,” he said. Brown also said the BDA has already submitted for reinstatement as a nonprofit.
The BDA will take over management as soon as the town completes negotiations of three-year subleases with two anchor tenants.
On Monday, Greg Farr, the BDA’s executive director, told the council that the welcome center will represent all of Brunswick, not just downtown businesses. He added that the center would allow the BDA to improve marketing the town as a destination.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to accept a $29,500 start-up grant for the Gateway 1 project. The grant will allow the town to hire consultants to explore ways to solve traffic and congestion problems on outer Pleasant Street.
Brunswick is one of several communities participating in Gateway 1, a study to develop traffic mitigation strategies on the corridor between Brunswick and Prospect. Brunswick and at least 16 other communities have recently signed onto the so-called action plan, which qualifies the town for about $500,000 in grants being made available for planning and projects.
Anna Breinich, the town’s planning director, said $29,500 is the start of a multi-phased project that will review improvements to outer Pleasant Street, an area caught between high traffic and development.
Also Monday, the council postponed a decision that could grant the town possession of a 21.4-acre parcel near the Great Scott Estates subdivision off Hacker Road. The property is in the town’s Rural Smart Growth district, which requires the developer to turn over land for conservation or preservation.
Town staff originally recommended assuming ownership of the property so it could become a conservation area, like nearby Cox Pinnacle.
However, town officials learned Monday that the Great Scott’s property had drawn interest from the Brunswick Topsham Land Trust.
Some councilors argued that turning over the property to the BTLT would have the same result as town ownership – conservation and potential trails – but without town responsibility.
The council will revist the issue on March 1.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org