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  • Hannah Laclaire - Times Record

Redevelopment efforts at Brunswick Landing strong despite pandemic

BRUNSWICK — Despite the coronavirus pandemic, redevelopment efforts at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station continues at a brisk pace. 

According to Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, business and both residential and commercial construction continue to boom.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority is tasked with overseeing the redevelopment of what is now Brunswick Landing. The former Naval base was decommissioned in 2011, taking thousands of jobs out of Brunswick, but recent efforts have yielded results that have outpaced what officials initially predicted. 

In a letter to the board of directors ahead of the organization’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Levesque said there are now more than 135 private and public businesses and organizations operating at Brunswick Landing and the Topsham Commerce Park, employing over 2,000 people full and part time. 

At the landing’s business start-up incubator, TechPlace, there are now 38 companies and more than 100 employees, filling about 88% of the space. 

Brunswick Landing is soon going to be even busier. 

There are hundreds of housing units, including 85 single-family and 108 multi-unit rental properties under construction with more than 144 multi-family rental units in the planning stages.

Commercially, Levesque said there are more than 100,000 square feet of new construction either in the works or coming down the pike, including the new Wild Oats Cafe and Bakery on Admiral Fitch Avenue, and the new Dunkin’, Bar Harbor Bank and Martin’s Point Health Care Facility, all on Bath Road. 

Wild Oats, Dunkin’ and the bank will open this fall or winter, Levesque said, but Martin’s Point, which will consolidate Brunswick’s two existing Martin’s Point offices, will open this summer. 

The Martin’s Point construction is of particular importance, as according to Brunswick’s Economic and Community Development Director Sally Costello, it has the potential to be a stabilizer for surrounding development, anchoring what she hopes will be a comprehensive revitalization for Cook’s Corner. The building “will make a big difference for the area,” she said last month. 

The redevelopment authority is also eyeing two parcels soon-to-be transferred by the Navy: the former softball fields and former Navy fuel farm and the land around the back gate and former landfill, which Levesque said have potential for redevelopment and solar or open space, respectively. 

Meanwhile, planning is underway for approximately 144-acres which include a cranberry wetland, a radar tower, abandoned military bunkers, airport access roads, a quarry and land formerly part of the town commons. The land was originally part of a roughly 275-acre area given over to Bowdoin College for educational purposes in 2006, but the college recently relinquished the parcel. 

Now a public process is in the works, and Levesque said they have received more than 500 responses, which will be used to draft some land-use scenarios. 

There will likely be mixed uses, he said previously, perhaps some residential and recreational, open space development. 

The Brunswick Topsham Land Trust hopes some of the land can be secured for recreation and conservation, as the land contains “valuable wetland, stream and vernal pool habitat” and has the opportunity to broaden the current recreational opportunities in town, the organization wrote in a blog post. 

It hasn’t been all good news. The pandemic required a few companies to temporarily shut down, though most have been able to stay open, or have employees work from home.

Air traffic was significantly curtailed for the first time since the authority took over Brunswick Executive Airport, and the 2020 Great State of Maine Airshow was canceled. 

Business attraction efforts were somewhat derailed by the cancellation of trade shows, though Levesque said they are still experiencing “a very busy business attraction season” and plan to work with a company to assist aerospace attraction efforts in particular. 

Environmental issues and the presence of pollutants continue to slow down redevelopment efforts. According to Leveque, there are still more than 500 acres that still need environmental clearance before they can be conveyed by the Navy. 

The Navy is also evaluating the physical storm drainage systems on the landing to determine whether they could be conduits of contaminated groundwater from hot spots to water systems, Levesque said.

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