Ezekiel Callanan, 29, has been executive director at Heart of Biddeford since December. The nonprofit organization was formed in 2004 to revitalize the downtown district, using the four-point approach as defined by the National Main Street program. Biddeford is one of nine Main Street Maine communities.

Q: So, what does the executive director of Heart of Biddeford do?

A: What I do is manage the four committees. The Main Street program has a four-point approach; each point is represented by a committee focused around promotion, design, economic restructuring and organization. The promotion committee is promoting downtown as an economic destination. The design committee focuses on physical attributes. Economic restructuring focuses on helping each business become stronger, as well as business retention and recruitment. Organization focuses on fundraising and volunteer retention and recruitment.

Q: How did you become interested in this position?

A: After law school, I passed the (bar exams) in Maine and Massachusetts, but quickly realized private practice was not what I wanted to do. I became drawn to economic development. I started Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, providing free legal service to artists who can’t afford it. That organization has been up and running since June 2008. I was volunteer executive director there for a year and now I am president of the board, but at some point I needed to draw an income. As I was looking for jobs, this one popped up on the radar and seemed like something I’d be interested in doing. I came down to Biddeford and saw the potential of this city.

Q: Were you familiar with Biddeford before you came to visit?

A: I was less familiar with the downtown. I just saw the power of the historic buildings — that’s the thing that overcame me.

Q: What were your goals at the outset?

A: First of all, I needed to understand what the program was about and the current goals of the organization. Not wanting to overstep any bounds, my initial goal was to create a strong rapport with the board, businesses within the city and the government as well. My goal from the beginning was to improve the downtown — attract new business and retain old business — to grow it as an economic center for the city that has an enormous amount of potential.

Q: What are your goals now? 

A: The most important thing is to focus on the notion of incremental self-help and to empower the businesses that are here to create sustainable business models. Our goals are to help our businesses achieve their goals. Once that’s happening it’s really going to naturally attract new business.

Q:Tell me a little bit about these neighborhood meetings and the recent community forum hosted by Heart of Biddeford.

A: The Heartworks Master Plan Project — this is a project that we embarked on two years ago when Rachael Weyand was director. She received a grant from the Orton Family Foundation. Their goal is to plan communities based on what the people of the community feel is the real heart and soul of that community and focus on what it is the community wants. Our project has three phases. The first was a storytelling phase. The organization went into the community and gathered stories about the things people love about Biddeford the most. The second phase was the neighborhood meetings phase. It was a little bit more focused on visioning. From those meetings and from the storytelling phase, we gleaned a number of themes and issues to focus on, and those were presented at the community forum July 15. The goal was to celebrate all the work done so far, then to look at those themes and share them and have the community prioritize them and confirm them.

Q: Why do you feel these neighborhood meetings are important to you and the organization?

A: It’s really mostly important because when people feel they have had input on the plan and the future of the town, they are going to buy into it. They’re going to really own that project, own that city, and their level of pride is enhanced. It’s really heartwarming to see people really care and give input on what they want this place to be. It’s the notion of taking democracy and putting it into city planning.

Q: Was Heart of Biddeford a part of the revitalization of Shevenell Park on Main Street?

A: Our goal was to clean up the park. The response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. Instead of people sleeping in the park, you walk by and see people with their laptops or eating lunch there. We’re also having Friday night concerts, free music in the park. That’s been a really positive series of events.

Q: Anything else people should know?

A: It’s fascinating to me the activity that’s going on in Biddeford and how much potential, how much action, is going on right now. It’s really exciting. You see people that have some preconceived notions that may have been negative about this area, and that’s going away. That’s part of our goal — to reinvent Biddeford and reintroduce Biddeford to the world.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]