Capt. Will Fitzgerald (left) and Steve Levesque (right) at Brunswick Landing. Courtesy of MRRA

After 16 years guiding the redevelopment of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, reborn as Brunswick Landing, Dec. 23 will be Steve Levesque’s final day serving as the executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.

Levesque announced his retirement from MRRA, the agency tasked with overseeing redevelopment, in May. He will be succeeded by Kristine Logan, the agency’s deputy director of innovation and development.

In his role, Levesque supervised a staff of 12 and managed an annual operating budget that ranged from $5 million to $10 million. When the base closed a decade ago, roughly 6,000 people lost their jobs. Today, about 150 businesses supporting around 2,600 jobs are operating at the landing, more than double the original employment projections for 2021 and surpassing the previous annual Navy payroll of $140 million.

The former base has generated over $200 million in new property valuation and brought in over $30 million of new state and local real estate and income taxes, according to the agency’s annual report. Housing at the landing has also expanded, and MRRA estimates there are now over 4,000 residents.

As his career with MRRA comes to a close, Levesque and the agencies redevelopment efforts received praise from politicians like Sen. Angus King, Sen. Susan Collins, Rep. Chellie Pingree and Gov. Janet Mills.

Here’s what Levesque had to say in what might be his final interview with The Times Record:

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The Times Record: When did you first start as the executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA)?

Steve Levesque: “Well, I actually started on this project before it was even MRRA. So, I was hired to do the reuse master plan for what was called then the ‘Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority.’ We were what they call a planning redevelopment authority that was essentially a planning board for the federal government because it was federal property. … During that period, it was about 18 months, MRRA was stood up by the state legislature to be an implementation redevelopment authority or to implement the reuse plan once properties were transferred by the Navy … that came officially effective Jan. 1, 2008.”

TR: Bring us back to 2011 when the base was decommissioned. What did the base look like then in terms of infrastructure and general layout?

SL: “When we first started it was a fully operational base, a Navy base, with Navy squadrons and everything here and it closed in 2011 … After the Navy left, we took over, I mean the place was completely empty …  all the buildings were vacant, all the housing was vacant. There wasn’t anything here when the Navy left, and we had to basically build it from scratch.”

TR: How far has the redevelopment come since then? What are you most proud of from these last 16 years?

SL: “Over the last 10 years, as we got properties from the Navy, we were able to attract industry, attract businesses, attract investors to where we are today. … Just to give you one crazy example: We inherited all the water lines, sewer lines, roadways, electric utility systems. We had over 250 buildings here on campus, and there was not individual electric or water meters on those buildings. … The things I’m most proud of, I mean, it’s not just one thing, but clearly TechPlace I think is a really cool addition because it provides a safe place for small businesses to grow and thrive.”

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Jets stationed at Brunswick Landing in 2020. Courtesy of MRRA

TR: TechPlace, which was founded in 2015, hosts 38 businesses ranging from aerospace to aquaculture. Could you explain this entity to our readers and what role MRRA in played in the redevelopment?

SL: “TechPlace was the former what they call intermediate maintenance facility. It’s where they repaired components of aircraft. And it was broke into all these small sections, and we just thought that this would make a great small business incubator. … One of them, STARC Systems, was working out of a garage in Lewiston, two guys and they came to TechPlace and now they’re well over 100 people and they’re occupying three buildings here at Brunswick Landing.”

TR: Nearly $1 billion has been invested in former base since 2011, according to MRRA’s 2021 annual report. What went into this redevelopment that maybe other retired bases around the country could learn from?

SL: “There was a concerted, coordinated effort between the town of Brunswick, and we also inherited the park over in Topsham. So, the two towns of Brunswick and Topsham and the state. We’ve had three governors now since we started this redevelopment process … The federal government, we’ve received a lot of money from the FAA to upgrade the airport to get ready for civilian uses, we received a lot of money from the Economic Development Administration to help pay for infrastructure, and a tax increment financing agreement with the town has helped that as well. … It’s all those parties, you know, kind of working together, everybody on the same page, that makes it work. We have … just a really talented staff that are very experienced people that know what they’re doing, and we stay out of politics, we just focus on getting the job done.”

TR: Do you have any regrets from your time as the executive director? Is there anything you wish you did differently?

SL: “Some things work out, and some things don’t. … I think our philosophy is we’d rather do 10 deals and have two of them fail, then only do two deals. … We want to be on the edge, we want to support innovation, and sometimes not everything works out. That’s just the nature of the business.”

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TR: What should people expect next for further redevelopment efforts at Brunswick Landing?

SL: “I think continuing along with the theme of being the center of innovation. We’ve also viewed this place as kind of a platform for businesses to come in and do their research and development. … We’re going to be the headquarters for the Maine Spaceport initiative, which is really around managing, assisting particularly early on kind of micro satellite launches from other parts of Maine where we would essentially become the Huston, if you will, of the Maine Spaceport.”

Steve Levesque. Credit: The Forecaster.

TR: In a previous interview you referred to the base as your “baby.” How does it feel to be retiring after all those years? What is next for you?

SL: “Well, it feels really weird. You know, it’s been my life for the past 16 years here. So, I have mixed emotions. I mean, I feel really good that we’ve accomplished, our team has accomplished, I think something that’s pretty special. … I feel really good from a career ending perspective that I’m leaving on a very, very good note. It’s like winning the Super Bowl, you know, my own personal Super Bowl. … I’m not the kind of person that’s going to go away and retire to a golf course, although I might play a little bit of golf … I’m going to do consulting work. I think I have some expertise, particularly around large asset redevelopment that I can maybe help other places in Maine and elsewhere.”

Portions of this Q&A were edited for brevity.

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