BRUNSWICK — The Town Council on Monday authorized negotiations for the sale of the downtown Recreation Center, which could ultimately lead to a new business moving into town.
After more than an hour of public comment, councilors voted 7-2 to authorize Town Manager Gary Brown to reach a purchase-and-sale agreement with the Brunswick Development Corp.
The deal would simplify the potential sale by BDC of the Recreation Center at 30 Federal St. and the Municipal Building at 28 Federal St. to Wiscasset-based nonprofit development and financial institution Coastal Enterprises, Brown said.
BDC is already scheduled to take ownership of the Municipal Building when the town moves its municipal offices to the McLellan Building on Union Street, Brown said. Because of CEI’s offer, he said, that could happen sooner than originally planned.
BDC is a nonprofit development corporation that was incorporated by the town in 1995. Brown, Councilors Suzan Wilson and John Richardson, and town Financial Director John Eldridge are members of the BDC board.
John Egan, CEI’s director of housing development, on Tuesday said Brunswick is CEI’s top choice for its headquarters and most of its current Portland office.
He said “other options are falling off rampantly.”
CEI originally announced on May 8 that it was conducting a feasibility study to assess the viability of moving to Brunswick.
“Things are really firming up with us in Brunswick,” Egan said.
Brown said proceeds of the Recreation Center sale to BDC will be used in the School Department budget for next year. The schools are looking at more than $772,000 in cuts to help cap the fiscal 2014 tax hike at 7 percent.
The sale of the Recreation Center to BDC could be completed within the next two or three weeks, Brown said. As stipulated in the council resolution, the sale price will be at least $200,000.
The council approved a land swap agreement with BDC last fall to exchange the town’s Municipal Building for the site of the future police station, which BDC purchased on the town’s behalf to mitigate the impact on taxpayers.
According to the property exchange agreement, the town will transfer ownership of the Municipal Building to BDC 30 days after it vacates the facility and moves into the McClellan Building, which the town acquired through a land swap with Bowdoin College in 2011.
BDC President Larissa Darcy will facilitate the negotiations with CEI, Brown said.
Egan said that CEI’s move to Brunswick is likely because of the Town Council’s warm reception and the location’s proximity to many of its existing clients.
He said CEI’s potential downtown location would also make the developer accessible to more small businesses in the area.
“It’s a great environment to be jumping into,” Egan said.
Councilors Sarah Brayman and John Perreault, who opposed the resolution, said they encourage CEI’s move, but believe the council’s decision-making process on the sale of the Recreation Center is incomplete.
“I wanted more citizen involvement earlier in the process, and I felt that this decision was rushed and we acted under a lot of pressure,” Brayman said. “I think CEI coming to Brunswick is a wonderful thing. However, I am a big advocate of having a walkable downtown.”
Brayman said she was led to believe there was going to be a Capital Improvement Plan committee workshop to discuss the capital needs of the Recreation Center, but it never happened because of CEI’s offer.
“I also feel that I would like more rigorous numbers when we make decisions like this,” she said. “We never had good numbers on what capital improvements were needed. We never had good numbers on how many people walked to the Recreation Center.”
Perreault said the number of citizens in support of keeping the Recreation Center at Monday’s meeting and at a council budget workshop last week showed that the public isn’t ready to end the conversation.
“I just felt that there was overwhelming support from the citizens of Brunswick to either not sell the building or slow down the process,” Perreault said Tuesday.
Citizens spoke for more than an hour before the council made its decision at about 9:40 p.m. Monday.
Kathleen Funderburk of High Street, who spoke last week as a parent whose children attend the preschool at the current Recreation Center, presented a citizen petition with 119 digital and physical signatures opposing the immediate sale of the center.
“Sale of any municipal property must involve input from all stakeholders in a procedure based on best practices,” Funderburk said, reading from the petition.
Egan on Tuesday said CEI will consider the community’s input when planning its move.
“I think we’re pretty well along with the idea that the old town hall is going to be replaced, but we haven’t spent much time looking at the Recreation Center,” he said. “We’re interested in making our first step into the community a positive one.”
With the town cleared to sell the Recreation Center, town staff will now work on the transition of the Park and Recreation Department’s administrative offices and many of its amenities to a former U.S. Navy field house at Brunswick Landing.
Brown said the U.S. Navy is expected to convey the field house, known as Building 211, to the town by August.