AUGUSTA — From wild Phish concerts and country crooners to political conventions and trade shows in industries ranging from medical marijuana to quilting, Dana Colwill has hosted them all as director of the Augusta Civic Center.
But the next event the Farmingdale resident will attend at the city-owned entertainment and conference venue will be as a spectator.
Colwill, director of the Augusta Civic Center for the city of Augusta for the last 11 years and administrator there for 19 years, stepped down last week.
“You just know when it’s time,” Colwill said. “I realized about a year ago it was time to move on, maybe do something different. I felt I didn’t have the desire I had that first 18 years. I could ride it out, but that’s not fair to anyone. You become complacent, and that’s not fair to the building, to the community.”
He announced his plans to step down in February.
City Manager William Bridgeo said the city conducted a national search and he expects to have a recommendation soon.
But it isn’t an easy job to fill, or do. The job is as much ambassador as administrator, with a heavy dose of problem-solving skills needed, Mayor David Rollins noted while presenting Colwill with a proclamation declaring Friday to be Dana Colwill Day in Augusta, with Colwill’s wife, Suzanne, and adult son Corey in attendance.
“You might be the No. 1 ambassador for the city of Augusta,” Rollins told Colwill. “For so many people who come to Augusta, their first experience here is at the Augusta Civic Center. I don’t know of any group of city employees that affects our image more than you. You’ve represented us fully, capably and honorably.”
Bridgeo and Colwill said the building is well-positioned for the future.
“Financially, things are better than I’ve seen in my 11 years, which I feel good about,” Colwill said. “The building is in great shape. I think the success of this building is not due to me; it’s due to the staff that work here. What a wonderful facility this has been for Augusta, Maine. It’s a true asset for this area. Look back, 15, 20 years ago, across the street (where a Marketplace stands) there was nothing. This has been an economic catalyst for this community.”
Colwill, 55, plans to take some time off and then seek part-time work, but probably not in the entertainment and conference-venue industry.
Among the challenging events during Colwill’s time was the 2010 concert by the Vermont jam band Phish, which sold out in 20 minutes and drew some 7,000 people.
“We worked three months preparing for that, and all the sideshows, working with law enforcement and fire, and all the things going on in the parking lot, and security. … That was a scary night,” Colwill said. “I was very glad when 11 p.m. rolled around. And we had a big convention moving in at 8 the next morning. We sold $40,000 worth of beer that night, but it went very well. Very smoothly.”
He said Phish also came with requirements not sought by other acts, such as containers for recycling.
“They’re a very green band, so there were a lot of vendors dropping off bins for different items. A lot of coordination was required. But they were excellent. They had a green team that assisted us in cleaning the parking lot afterwards.”
Colwill, a fan of country music and classic rock, said his personal favorite act was Alison Krauss & Union Station in 2005.
In recent years, as its concert business has declined in part because new, larger facilities are available in Bangor, the Augusta Civic Center has thrived in the niche of providing convention, conference, trade show and meeting space. Colwill said the civic center, including its main auditorium and 23 meeting rooms, hosts events an average of 320 days a year. The auditorium, which also hosts sporting events such as state basketball tournaments, is booked an average of 221 days a year.
In all, those events bring in about 325,000 people a year.
The facility has 107 employees, 14 of them full-time.
Colwill was hired as assistant director 19 years ago and became director when David Jowdry left 11 years ago.
“It was a no-brainer who the nomination ought to be. The City Council agreed there was no need to bother with a search process. The right person was right here in out midst,” Bridgeo said of Colwill.