Two years after the Brunswick community braced for the news that Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS) was scheduled to be closed by BRAC the Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) has developed a master plan that Brunswick’s State Representative Stan Gerzofsky says will be a model for development and conservation. Photo left by Ramona du Houx

March/April 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

Two and a half years ago Brunswick Naval Air Station (BNAS), despite continuous attempts by the governor and the congressional delegation to keep it open, was slated by BRAC to close by 2011. This March the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) announced their first tenant.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has committed to establishing a permanent campus on the former BNAS site and expanding their current programs. The university has operated a satellite college at the Navy base since 1994, offering military personnel a wide range of undergraduate and, more recently, masters-level courses in aviation.

Embry-Riddle’s decision begins the process of creating Maine’s first center for aviation.

“This is yet another new beginning for Brunswick and the Midcoast region. Embry-Riddle has been a consistent, good partner with the state of Maine,” said Governor Baldacci. “To have an institution of Embry-Riddle’s caliber commit to the region is an enormous contribution to workforce redevelopment of this facility. Embry-Riddle’s commitment to the region underscores the significant promise of the aviation industry in the redevelopment plan. They will be an anchor.”

dd7ee942f62420fc-brunswicknavalair1John Richardson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development talks with the state senator about Bunswick Landing. Photo by Ramona du Houx

John Richardson, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said, “The governor had the vision that put us on this road to investigate the potential of aviation on the base. Aviation is key to the redevelopment of the base. Embry-Riddle is the Harvard of the aviation world. Our universities and community colleges lack aviation training and technology. They will be able to work with the Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) composites program, offering us something we sorely need. The base offers them a quality location and Pine Tree Zone tax incentives. We’re looking forward to a great partnership.”

Charlie Whitten, director of academic support for Embry-Riddle’s Brunswick campus said the base’s updated aviation facilities, two refurbished runways and new hangar, made it an easy decision to create a permanent presence in Brunswick.

“We have a national traveling facility that has the expertise to help determine what the best programs would be for any campus. Whatever programs are needed Embry-Riddle will provide them,” said Whitten. “We have adjunct professors who are experts in their fields, providing worldwide cutting-edge expertise.”

“It’s a major university with support from major airlines. They have 171 professors doing research and have joint projects — one project I can see happening with SMCC,” said Charlie Bridge, a professor at Embry-Riddle.

Embry-Riddle teaches the science, practice and business of aviation, aerospace, and related technologies. It is the world’s largest fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace. The school offers more than 30 degrees ranging from aeronautical science to space physics and conducts research. It has two residential campuses and 130 worldwide satellite university programs. It owns more than 90 training aircraft and 40 simulators for pilot training. According to Whitten only the two residential campuses have onsite pilot training facilities; BNAS could become the third.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. Embry-Riddle is working with Pratt and Whitney, the largest airplane-engineering outfit in the country. To have this educational institution here on the base will be a tremendous draw for aviation companies remodeling planes, working on reconditioning engines, or even doing basic training for pilots and ground personnel. It will be a quality center for other companies to draw off of. It’s an asset,” said Baldacci. “They recognize the potential that is here and by being here they help us attract other companies.”

Since BRAC announced that BNAS was to be closed, Governor Baldacci’s administration has been working with the impacted towns, the Maine Legislature, the Maine congressional delegation and others to bolster the Midcoast region’s economy.

“The redevelopment has been a priority of mine,” said the governor. “There are a lot of forces already here that are positive to redevelopment, just by the very nature of the wonderful resources, the talent and education of the people and the infrastructure with the new buildings and two runways. We surveyed the workforce and the skill sets that they have, and they are extremely high. Our role is to create the environment for prosperity and opportunity to occur.”

A special Military Pine Tree Development (PTZ) program was established to encompass the area. Nine companies have been certified as PTZs and will move into the Brunswick region because of the tax incentives offered. The companies will bring 58 new employees and over $12 million will be invested into the region.

“What we are saying to businesses is that it is more important to the state that you come to the area than the taxes,” said Baldacci.

In February, Maine received a $2 million Base Realignment and Closure Implementation Grant to support a workforce and economic development project in the greater Brunswick area. “The grant will help give workers the skills they need to transition to new careers in the growing information technology sector,” said the governor.

IT jobs may also be available at the former base. The MRRA plans are comprehensive and encompass a wide range of innovative technologies and educational facilities that should make the region an economic hub of industry and education with cutting-edge, global-economy companies. Bowdoin College and Southern Maine Community College have already committed to becoming part of the redevelopment of the base, making Embry-Riddle the third educational facility.

With Embry-Riddle positioned to train employees and provide future aviation tenants with an educated work force, MRRA officials predict the base could employ more than 5,000 aviation industry workers.

The MRRA is actively working to make the base home to corporate aviation businesses, private air carriers, and aircraft maintenance operations. “As Embry-Riddle grows on the base, so will other aviation industries and jobs. It’s really an evolving process,” said Steve H. Levesque, executive director for the MRRA. “Today shows promise for the future. Having a quality educational component is one of the linchpins to successful economic redevelopment. The announcement today embodies that principle.”

“It’s a great start for the redevelopment of the base,” said Art Mayo, chair of the MRRA.

“There is going to be a bright future for Brunswick,” said Gerzofsky who was a member of the LRA and is on the MRRA, the organization implementing the LRA’s plan. “We’re transforming the base with technologies and businesses of the future. In the future it’s going to be a magnet hub of industry and business development with about a thousand acres of conservation land. It’s a model for Maine, and the Nation.”

The LRA process was a model example in itself of how all interests can work together for the future of the community and state.

“We had such an open and transparent process. Keeping the community involved at every stage is something I’m proud of. Citizens have been able to see the benefit of what we have done by watching the proceedings on local news or participating in forums. Local government, citizens and politicians all worked together in a transparent way to develop the plans,” said Gerzofsky.(photo at left)

Rep. Gerzofsky said that there shouldn’t be a negative economic impact for the Brunswick area because the base will never be vacant.

“There is some concern about what will happen during the time between the closure and taking possession of the base. The base is going to be closed in stages and we are going to make sure that it’s as seamless a transition as possible. There will be activity on the base all during this time,” said Gerzofsky. “We will be still getting assistance money from the federal government, and we are going to be able to start transferring property pretty quickly. The Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) can move in immediately and start their construction plans. The airport transformation into a civilian airport can start.”

There will be more than 700 acres for airport operations and aviation-related businesses. In addition to serving general and corporate aviation businesses, the base would host aircraft maintenance, aviation manufacturing and aerospace research.

Nearly 1,500 acres, which represents 49 percent of the site, are reserved for recreation and open space. About 200 acres would be set aside for a new campus operated by SMCC, and 170 acres for Bowdoin College, with another 175 acres designated for community mixed use, like offices, retail space, daycare centers, assisted senior housing, or civic and cultural uses. A 70-acre parcel would be reserved for low-density housing and educational uses.

More than 700 acres at the base would be allocated to either professional office space or business-related uses, which would transform BNAS into the single largest business park in Maine.

New businesses are lined up to move onto the base, looking at the new business park with the large hanger space as an opportunity in the making.

“The most important thing is creating jobs, and by putting assets and business down before the base closes, we are mitigating the negative economic impact of the closure — for the state mostly in payroll tax loss. We have a substantial list of committed businesses that want to move onto the base,” said Gerzofsky. “Some involved in composite technologies.”

UMO recently won national awards for the composite technologies that they have developed. They are currently refining the processes for biofuels and biodegradable products, like wood ethanol for fuel and water bottles made out of potatoes.

Composite technologies have been used in aerospace projects making planes lighter and stronger as well in the boatbuilding industry. Hodgdon’s Yachts in Boothbay Harbor developed a revolutionary composite hull for the Navy Seals’ Mark V with composite technology developed at UMO. The Army is looking to produce makeshift buildings with composite technology developed by UMO. Having UMO research and development branches at the base will assist industries that want to develop these technologies commercially.

“UMO will bring offices here, bringing their technical expertise here, not only with wood composites, marine composites, and other types of composites, but also the research and development expertise. The manufacturers will be able to develop their products on the base with the space the old hangers provide and UMO expertise,” said Gerzofsky. “The idea is to get these like industries together in clusters so they can work together in one strategic location.”

Recommendations made to the state from a governor’s council stressed the importance of developing clusters, groupings of growth industries to work together to share information and technology and marketing resources, thus growing their market share in the economy.

“We’re looking to partner with Bath Iron Works (BIW) to help them move forward with the boats of the future, made from composites. We might not be training welders twenty years down the road; we might be training a composite builder. It is the future,” said Rep. Gerzofsky. “The base closure has given us the opportunity to develop cluster growth. We’re going to be the star in the United States when you look at composite work. That’s the training SMCC is giving students in Brunswick, and soon on they will be on the base.”

The 1,500 acres reserved for recreation and open space could include public parks, gardens, bicycle trails, equestrian facilities, hiking trails, and environmental education. About 1,000 acres represents the return of the town commons to Brunswick. Gerzofsky put in a resolution to get back the town commons land that BNAS took when they came to Brunswick. The resolution worked. “As a result we have the largest pitch pine area in the state that was preserved by BNAS. We also have grassland for certain birds that only nest there and are on the endangered species list. Generations of Mainers will be able to enjoy this special conservation land,” said Brunswick’s Representative.

Affordable housing will also be available.

“People will be able to continue their educations at the college extensions, work for a high tech industry, and live in affordable housing, and recreate,” concluded Gerzofsky. “We’re turning BNAS back into part of the town of Brunswick. It’s already bringing the community together.”