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Brunswick base redevelopers contemplate capital campaign for marketing

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Brunswick base redevelopers contemplate capital campaign for marketing

BRUNSWICK — As early as next summer, the redevelopers of Brunswick Naval Air Station could become landlords of parts of the 3,200-acre facility. The transfer of property will be an important step in the base's planned transition to the economic hub the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority envisions.

The trick, MRRA officials say, is getting the word out to prospective businesses.

That task got a little harder last week when Gov. John Baldacci signed a $5.8 billion state budget. The spending plan slashed nearly $500 million in state spending by cutting education funds, instituting government furlough days and suspending merit and longevity raises for state workers.

Although Baldacci lauded the plan as a responsible response to economic hardship, the budget also excludes funding for one of the governor's stated priorities, redevelopment of BNAS. Or, more specifically, marketing the redevelopment.

MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque had initially requested $200,000.  Levesque said MRRA is now considering a capital campaign to drum up funding for a task he says is vital to the successful redevelopment of BNAS.

The campaign, Levesque said, would attempt to raise $100,000 from companies and organizations affected by base closure. The campaign isn't definite, he said, but is something the redevelopment authority is "seriously considering."

Levesque and members of the MRRA board have framed redevelopment marketing as a requisite to successful reuse of the base property. However, news of the funding drive has left Augusta defensive against the perception that the state is abandoning its commitment to the BNAS transition.

David Farmer, Baldacci's deputy chief of staff, said Tuesday that BNAS remains a "high priority for the governor," adding that Baldacci has included a $10 million allocation in his proposed bond package that would be split between MRRA and the so-called Advanced Technology and Engineering Campus at the base, a joint venture between Southern Maine Community College and the University of Maine. 

The Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is currently reviewing the proposal, which would funnel $4.75 million to the campus project for renovation and conversion of existing buildings, and another $5.25 million to MRRA for entrance upgrades and property renovations. The Legislature is expected to finish its bond packages by the end of the week. 

Farmer also highlighted other instances of state support, including two grants from the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment, which delivered $85,000 to support a regional economic development marketing plan, and another $1 million grant for long-range transportation planning for base reuse. In addition, Farmer said, the state Department of Economic and Community Development has provided $247,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to MRRA for its operations planning match to a federal grant. There's another $100,000 committed to CDBG funding in the next fiscal year.

Farmer said Baldacci took $14,500 from the state's contingency fund to assist MRRA with marketing efforts in June 2008.

That there is no direct allocation to MRRA in the state budget is a reflection of the economic climate, Farmer said.

"The budget that was approved last week reduced spending, not counting the Highway Fund, by roughly $500 million," Farmer wrote in an e-mail, "and included cuts to every area of (state) government, including K-12 education, (state) workers, tax rebate programs and health care for populations covered by MaineCare."

Nonetheless, with base property becoming available as soon as next summer, MRRA officials and board members are hammering at the need for marketing money. While the authority receives healthy federal appropriations, it is prevented from using the federal dollars for marketing.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said Tuesday that he is looking into adding marketing money in a supplemental state budget "if there is one." Gerzofsky added that if there is no supplemental budget because of the economy, he would attempt to introduce legislation for the cause.

"Right now our focus is securing the ($10 million) bond," Gerzofsky said. "I spoke with (Levesque) about this. ... He also told me that the bond was the priority this year and marketing was the priority next year. It's not me or the governor telling him this. He told us that."

Levesque said the MRRA board will consider the capital campaign at its next meeting in July. The date for the meeting is yet to be determined.

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