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Brunswick Naval Air Station redevelopers await news on state funding

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Brunswick Naval Air Station redevelopers await news on state funding

BRUNSWICK — Despite a cruel budget year, the organization overseeing the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station is hoping for a little kindness from the Legislature.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is parsing Gov. John Baldacci's $306 million bond package. The proposal includes about $10 million for the redevelopment of BNAS, including $4.75 million for Southern Maine Community College's planned campus on the property. The allocation also calls for another $5.25 million to go to the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority. 

MRRA, which is overseeing base redevelopment, hopes to use the money for building and property improvements. 

According to MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque, base funding received a high recommendation from the Business Research and Economic Development Committee. However, during the MRRA's board meeting on Tuesday, Levesque said it was possible MRRA's appropriation would be pushed to the next legislative session. 

It's unclear how the Appropriations Committee will view the allocations, given the state's budget woes. Baldacci's bond package is modeled after President Barack Obama's stimulus bill, which generated resistance from Republicans arguing that the country couldn't spend its way out of an economic malaise.

In addition, lawmakers lobbying on behalf of MRRA and SMCC will likely have to convince northern legislators that pouring money into region-specific activities will benefit the entire state.

MRRA has long argued that SMCC's planned campus would speed base redevelopment because the college can tailor its curriculum to meet needs of incoming businesses. SMCC is also planning a credit exchange with the University of Maine's engineering program, a partnership proponents of the expansion hope will draw support from lawmakers statewide.

On Tuesday, MRRA board member Heather Collins told Jim Nimond, the governor's new MRRA liaison, that base marketing and redevelopment isn't just important to the Mid-Coast region, but to the entire state.

Much of MRRA's operational funding comes from the federal Economic Development Administration. But according to MRRA board Chairman Art Mayo, federal agencies don't allocate funding for marketing activity.

While Nimond wouldn't commit to to funding for marketing purposes, he said Baldacci is working on ways to broaden requirements for Military Redevelopment Zones. The designations are modeled after the Pine Tree Zone program, which offers businesses tax benefits for moving or expanding to specific areas. 

Nimond said new parameters for redevelopment zones would allow businesses to qualify for tax benefits before 2011, when BNAS is scheduled to close. Certified companies would also get a 10-year run in the program. 

The BRED committee recently endorsed the new redevelopment zone standards, 13-0.

The MRRA board also discussed potential names for the redeveloped base. Levesque said "Midcoast Maine Technology Park" had emerged as one of the leading candidates. Some board members, however, were cool to the suggestion. 

Gary Brown, Brunswick's acting town manager, said Brunswick should be included in the name. 

"To not include Brunswick in the the name is kind of a disservice to the history of the facility," Brown said. 

Don Hudson worried that "Midcoast" could be lost in a "sea of similar names."

The board is expected to revisit the issue when it meets again in July. 

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net