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Revitalized GrowSmart settles into Portland, receives grant

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Revitalized GrowSmart settles into Portland, receives grant

PORTLAND — Nearly three months ago, GrowSmart Maine, the grassroots organization that sponsored the 2006 Brookings Institution report, "Charting Maine's Future," almost folded. Founder and Executive Director Alan Caron resigned, staff was cut and the group appealed for $60,000 in donations to stay afloat.

Since then, the organization has met its fundraising goal, moved its headquarters from Yarmouth to Portland, named a new interim executive director and has received a $50,000 grant to continue its advocacy work for growth in vibrant communities and conservation of farmland, forests and waterfronts.

Communication Director Christian McNeil said for the past year, GrowSmart has been working with the town of Standish to develop a village center for future growth. They have encouraged economic development and worked with the town's Planning Department to create new zoning ordinances so developers can more easily build within the village center. The downtown revitalization efforts, McNeil said, will leave the surrounding wooded areas free of sprawl. The work with Standish, called the "Model Town Project," will be used to educate other communities throughout the state.

McNeil said the $50,000 matching grant provided by Maine's Environmental Funders Network will help GrowSmart travel to, communicate with and educate the other communities. Representatives will talk to planning departments, conservation staff, economic development departments and other town officials, sharing all they learned from working in Standish.

"The grant will help us take the lessons we've learned to benefit other communities in the state," McNeil said. "It will allow us to talk about developing town centers and inviting growth, while conserving farms, trails, and forests."

In addition to the grant, McNeil said GrowSmart is pleased with its new offices on Cumberland Avenue in Portland. All of the organization's employees live in Portland, making it cheaper and easier for them to get to work.

"At one time, Yarmouth was the central location for all the employees of the company," he said. "Now with a pared down staff and natural turnover, we have found inexpensive office space and we can all walk to work, saving us and the company money."

McNeil said there are four full-time staff members, including Maggie Drummond, GrowSmart's interim executive director. Drummond has been an employee for almost five years, and was the advocacy director since 2004.

"Maggie has been here through the research and publication of the Brookings report, and knows the company well," McNeil said. "Her biggest strength is her ability to create and maintain relationships at the state house in Augusta."

He said she will continue to work as interim director until the search for a full-time executive director is completed by the end of the year.

McNeil said surviving the recent financial turmoil has given all GrowSmart employees a more clear-eyed assessment of the finances going forward.

"We are all feeling more confident and can look to the future now," he said. "Financially, we are all on the same page, and are on more solid and realistic ground."

For the future, he said there are other grant opportunities in the works and the public can expect an annual report within the next month or two. He also said there will be an open house shortly after Labor Day for people to tour the new offices at 309 Cumberland Ave.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.