Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, has been deeply involved in the revitalization of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station since 2006. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — The former Brunswick Naval Air Station had about 5,000 jobs when active, between civilian employees and military personnel, with an annual payroll of about $140 million. Its closure in 2011 left the area to grapple with a potentially severe economic downturn.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority now boasts 2,000 jobs, with payroll of about $120 million.

“We’ve certainly outpaced our projection,” MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque said Oct. 28, during the authority’s annual dinner. “We thought we’d be less than 1,000 by this time, using traditional absorption rates. … I think we’re only a couple years away from eclipsing the $140 million.”

That achievement is a benchmark for whether the redevelopment effort has been a success, he said.

About 100 people attended the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority’s 12th annual dinner on Oct. 28. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

MRRA looks to build an additional 250,000 square feet of new building space within the next year.

“We do have land that people are starting to build on, which is really exciting,” Levesque said.

According to the authority, nearly 1 million square feet are occupied by businesses; about 2,000 jobs have been created since the base closure; 135 businesses have sprung up at both Brunswick Landing and the Topsham Commerce Park, formerly the Navy’s Topsham Annex; 45 buildings cover nearly 430 acres that MRRA has sold to private developers for redevelopment activity in the future; and 26,000 operations are projected this year at Brunswick Executive Airport.

“We’ve been able to recover most of the economic impact that the base had when it was an active base installation, in a very short time frame,” Levesque said, adding the growth at Brunswick Landing serves as a catalyst for economic development in the community and region.

“This is a 10-to-20-year play,” said keynote speaker Kerem Durdag, president and chief operating officer of Great Works Internet. “And that takes a lot of courage … because you have to manage expectations. And you have to manage expectations that are above and beyond what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Of the 135 businesses, about two-thirds had never existed in Maine, Levesque said. A few have left, including Kestrel Aircraft and Maine Tool & Machine, which were not meeting their financial obligations and were asked to leave, Levesque said. Frosty’s Donuts also moved its baking operations off the former base.

“We’re no different than the rest of the economy,” he said. “Some companies grow and stay, and some companies are acquired, and some companies leave for other reasons.”

Some companies that started small at Brunswick Landing’s TechPlace, a combination of office space and shared workspace, such as STARC Systems, have grown from two to more than 60 employees and expanded into larger spaces, Levesque said.

Faced with difficult-to-heat large buildings, MRRA worked with the state and the Federal Aviation Administration to revitalize the facilities with LED lighting, radiant heat and additional insulation, making them more affordable to keep warm, he said.

“We still have about 150,000 square feet that we’re looking to find tenants for” out of a total of about 400,000 square feet of hangars, Levesque said.

Aerospace companies new to Brunswick Landing include Legacy Aircraft, Precision Air and When You Fly. Since MRRA acquired the airport through a public benefit conveyance as a public airport, those properties can only be leased, not sold. MRRA has about 15 aerospace companies, and five hangars.

Wayfair, an e-commerce company with more than 500 employees in Brunswick, received MRRA’s Innovator of the Year award in the large company division, which covers businesses of more than 11 employees. Tom Wright was named Redeveloper of the Year for converting seven former Navy buildings into successful businesses, such as Flight Deck Brewing, Seeds of Independence, Turtle Rock Farm Food Cannery and Preserves, and The REAL School. bluShift Aerospace, which created a bio-derived, nontoxic fuel that is carbon neutral, is 2019’s the Innovator of the Year in MRRA’s smaller company category. The company plans to launch a Maine-made rocket within two years.

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