BRUNSWICK — Caught between a need to ease anxiety about the closing of Brunswick Naval Air Station and protecting the identity of prospective tenants at the base, the commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development on Monday called for new communication “protocols” between the base redevelopment authority and the Town Council.
Commissioner John Richardson, who also serves on the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, sought in a Town Council workshop to reassure councilors about progress being made to attract tenants to the base. Richardson told the council that about a dozen companies, including a Fortune 500 company, had contacted DECD or the redevelopment authority about moving to Brunswick.
“You’d be very proud if I could tell you the names (of these companies), ” Richardson said. “But I can’t.”
Richardson acknowledged the growing “angst” over base closure, but emphasized the need to keep the name of prospective tenants secret during real estate negotiations.
“Confidentiality is king,” he said.
Richardson’s comments were delivered after the recent permanent departure of two additional P-3 Orion squadrons. The final squadron is scheduled to leave at the end of the year and the base is scheduled to be closed in 2011.
Councilors remarked at how empty the base appeared during a recent tour. Meanwhile, moving vans have made frequent appearances to the increasingly vacant base housing units along McKeen Street.
Increased visual evidence of base closure has drawn concerns from councilors that the town has been removed from the redevelopment process. Some have called for an increased town presence on the MRRA’s board of directors.
Richardson attempted to address those fears, but stressed that the redevelopment authority has transitioned into a “real estate disposition” entity since the adoption of the master reuse plan, which requires the increased secrecy.
“(MRRA has) become a little bit more quiet, more confidential, more secretive,” Richardson said. “That’s at the request of the businesses we are courting.”
Richardson suggested new procedures to balance confidentiality and transparency, including potentially discussing prospective tenants with the council in closed-door, executive sessions.
It’s unclear how private meetings between MRRA and the council would satisfy the state’s open meeting law, since the town isn’t involved in base property transactions.
Richardson also attempted to deflect concerns about Oxford Aviation, the aircraft refurbishing business that has announced plans to expand to BNAS. Although the company has said its so-called Brunswick Jet Division would create 200 jobs, the company has requested significant state assistance for the venture. Last summer, it scrubbed a planned Sanford Jet Division at the Sanford Regional Airport after Sanford invested close to $1 million in the proposed $7 million development, including $670,000 in town-authorized bonds.
Richardson didn’t directly address Oxford Aviation’s history, or its request for state assistance for the Brunswick expansion. He did, however, express confidence in the company’s leadership.
“(Oxford Aviation) aren’t the only players in this game,” he said. “We’re going to take the best companies, the ones who are ready and able to (move to BNAS).”