Brunswick Landing seen as model for base redevelopers
BRUNSWICK — Redevelopment efforts at Brunswick Landing may not always go smoothly, but the work has caught the eyes of national officials.
This September, the former naval air station and the base developer, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, will be one of the focuses of a first-in-the-nation three-day Base Redevelopment Forum.
Hosted by the Association of Defense Communities at the former base and in Portland, the forum will bring together base redevelopment communities from across the country to share best practices on marketing, real estate, business attraction and other tools of the trade.
"We picked what we thought was a great project and a great laboratory for developers to look at," said Tim Ford, chief executive officer of ADC. "It's a no-brainer for us to choose Brunswick as the host of the first forum."
The forum will take place Sept. 25-27, with sessions and networking events at the Portland Harbor Hotel and Ocean Gateway in Portland, and Brunswick Landing.
One of the major discussions will be ADC's State of Base Redevelopment Report, with profiles of base developers' efforts across the country, including MRRA.
"The report is meant to help us understand how projects are moving forward," Ford said. "... What we try to do on a yearly basis is look at what's happening: what's working and what's not working, so from a federal level we can look at policy changes that can help base redevelopment move forward."
In addition, he said, it helps different base developers understand how each one is dealing with similar problems.
MRRA's redevelopment efforts have had somewhat of a bumpy ride since work began a few years ago – with Kestrel Aircraft backing out of its major jobs promise, and continuing tension over board representation – but Ford and an official at the U.S. Department of Defense said when it comes to the big picture, MRRA is a success story.
Bryant Monroe, a project leader with DOD's Office of Economic Adjustment, said of the major 25 bases that were closed during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round, Brunswick Landing represents one of the best practices in base redevelopment.
"In terms of the response, I think their response was the very best of that list," Monroe said. "The way the organization was pulled together, the partnership with the state, Brunswick and Topsham was first rate. The plan was done in an incredible time line."
"Doing the process is not easy," he added, "but in this case you had a lot of good people on the ground and working very effectively with the Navy."
Monroe said the addition of Swedish-based health-care manufacturer Molnlycke Health Care at Brunswick Landing would be considered a major highlight for any former base in its redevelopment stages.
"Having that company do business (on the base) is quite a success story," Monroe said. "... A larger tenant like that brings larger synergy to the site."
Monroe acknowledged that local redevelopment efforts haven't always gone smoothly, especially when it comes to the sometimes tense relationship between the town of Brunswick and the state.
However, he said, when compared to other base redevelopment efforts across the country, Brunswick Landing is held in high regard.
"I think it really is a great story. The story still holds," Monroe said. "... For whatever might be happening in terms of disagreements, there's progress and over time, progress will beget more positive parts of that process."
"Despite all the things (that have happened), they still keep moving forward," Ford said. "I think there's still a strong commitment to making the project successful. What I've seen with other projects, local issues comes up and projects come to a halt."
For one example, Ford cited the story of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station near Irvine, Ca.
After the base was officially closed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 1999, Ford said the community fought over its future for nearly 10 years and not much had happened.
Once some kind of accord was reached, developers decided to pursue real estate projects for the base, Ford said, but by the time that happened, it was in the middle of the 2008 housing crisis.
On the other hand, MRRA has created about 225 jobs and moved in about 27 businesses within two years of starting. It has also helped generate more than $800,000 in property taxes at Brunswick Landing and Topsham Commerce Park for the towns of Brunswick and Topsham.
Steve Levesque, MRRA's executive director, said he expects MRRA will help generate more than 600 jobs by the end of 2014.
"I'm not ready to say we're successful yet," Levesque said. "We have an awful long ways to go, but I think we're on a very good path."