BRUNSWICK — The U.S. Navy invited politicians, members of the public and the media to massive Hangar 6 at Brunswick Naval Air Station for Monday’s ceremonial change of ownership of the base airfield.
The ceremony recognized the first BNAS property to be transferred from the Navy to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Association.
Speakers addressed the crowd against the backdrop of a Kestrel airplane, a prototype of the single-engine propeller planes that the company plans to build at Brunswick Landing, as the base will be called, in the future.
In his remarks, Gov. Paul LePage took the opportunity to talk up his recent Red Tape audits, announcing that “Maine is now open for business!”
He pointed to the redevelopment of BNAS as an example of a way to create jobs while protecting the environment and improving education. LePage went on to praise the planned cooperation between Southern Maine Community College and engineering and manufacturing companies that have pledged to move to the base.
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree described the property conveyance as “bittersweet,” because it precedes the official closing of the base. But she congratulated the MRRA, Navy and others for making sure BNAS doesn’t sit idle like other closed bases around the country.
While neither attended the meeting, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins both had aides read letters on their behalf.
Collins called the property conveyance “another exciting milestone in the redevelopment efforts of Brunswick Naval Air Station,” and thanked the MRRA and in particular its executive director, Steve Levesque, for his hard work and vision.
Snowe said Monday’s ceremony paves the way for new employment opportunities in the area. She expressed her excitement for the first civilian air show, to be held at the airport in August, as well as for new companies to move onto the former Navy base.
Levesque congratulated the Navy on transferring property before the naval operations on the base officially conclude in May. The airfield will become Brunswick Executive Airport.
But the actual deed transfer will not occur until sometime next week, said Jeffrey Jordan, deputy director of the MRRA. At that time, MRRA will assume the responsibility for maintaining the 750 acres of airport property and buildings, many of which are unoccupied.
At least two companies, Maine Tool & Machine and Kestrel Aviation, have already begun to occupy their buildings. Employees of Maine Tool are “making renovations to the building as we speak,” Jordan said.
Kestrel CEO Alan Klapmeier said he was given a key to Hangar 6 a month ago, and has moved into a townhouse on the base. He said he was relieved that MRRA would be taking possession of the airport property in the next week, but has been frustrated that the process hasn’t been been able to move faster.
Klapmeier was hesitant to discuss a schedule, but estimated that Kestrel production probably wouldn’t begin for two to three years and it would be “several months before someone could drive up here and see a lot of activity.”
Even though production is still years away, many of those who attended Monday’s ceremony crawled inside the little Kestrel airplane and patted its wing, expressing their enthusiasm for the day when the hangar will be filled with planes and employees.
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A Kestrel airplane sits on display in Hangar 6 at Brunswick Naval Air Station on Monday during a ceremony to transfer the airport from the U.S. Navy to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. The ceremony was attended by Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and other state and local government officials.
Gov. Paul LePage, left, greets Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority before the ceremony on Monday.