AUGUSTA — Steve Pecukonis, the newly hired Augusta downtown manager, believes the city’s downtown is on the cusp of great things.

It’s not because of his arrival — though he certainly hopes to play a role in pushing the revitalization of the downtown — but, rather, because both aging baby boomers and young adults are shifting to a culture that values the convenience and community that can be found in a downtown, abandoning the suburbs and parking their cars.

“It’s a culture change. People are tired of driving, especially with energy costs the way they are,” Pecukonis, 60, said on his first day on the job Monday. “People like me are coming in from the suburbs. Young people aren’t enamored with driving. I see a return of people to service-center communities. People want to be able to work, sleep, eat and recreate in one place; and that’s downtown.”

Pecukonis was selected from 19 candidates who sought the combined job of downtown manager and executive director of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit group whose goal is to revitalizing the city’s downtown.

The Brunswick resident has been a self-employed management consultant for the past three decades.

For almost as long, he’s been the facilitator of the Kennebec Leadership Institute, a program of Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce and University of Maine at Augusta that seeks to train and develop community-minded leaders.

Larry Fleury, president of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, was in the second class of the Kennebec Leadership Institute facilitated by Pecukonis, in the 1980s.

“I was quite impressed with him then and still am now,” Fleury said. “He’s a great communicator. I think he’s going to be a great addition to downtown. We expect great things.”

Pecukonis, who is married and lives in downtown Brunswick, said he’s giving up his management consultant work but plans to continue facilitating Kennebec Leadership Institute.

Both Fleury and Pecukonis said meeting downtown merchants and other community members will be at the top of his “to do” list.

“It’s not about the office. It’s about being out on the street,” said Pecukonis, whose office is on the first floor of the old federal building — downtown, of course. “I need to learn my way around, meet board members, meet the merchants and listen to them. I’m in learning mode.”

Once Pecukonis gets established, Fleury anticipates the downtown manager’s priorities will be bringing more businesses downtown, making the street look clean and working with the Maine Downtown Center on its four-point approach to revitalizing downtowns.

Melanie Baillargeon, chairwoman of the Augusta Downtown Alliance committee that chose Pecukonis, said he was selected because of his proven skills as a respected leader and facilitator through his 27 years of involvement with the Kennebec Leadership Institute, his broad range of contacts and resources in the region, the new perspective and energy he’s expected to bring to the organization, and his business experience.

Roxanne Eflin, senior program director of the Maine Downtown Center, said the selection committee made a great choice in Pecukonis. Augusta was designated a Main Street community in May, after several years of lesser participation in the organization. The designation comes with training and other resources, but also with the requirement that a full-time downtown manager be hired.

“We’re really excited Augusta finally has a downtown manager,” Eflin said.

The downtown manager’s position, like the program’s roughly $70,000 total budget, is funded jointly by the city, which this year contributed $20,000, and downtown merchants, residents, other community members, and fundraising efforts.

Fleury and Pecukonis declined to reveal Pecukonis’ salary, but prior to his hiring, the position was expected to pay $36,000 to $41,000 a year.

In addition to meeting local merchants and community members, Pecukonis also will be busy this week hosting a resource team from the Maine Downtown Center, which will spend three days assessing the downtown area and its needs and opportunities, then will issue a written report meant to be a work plan for the next three years.

Pecukonis said after three decades of consulting, a job in which he comes in for a relatively short time and then moves on, he’s looking forward to working in a job where he can have a more lasting effect.

“I’ve always been interested in economic development,” he said. “People are concerned about where the jobs are going to be for their kids, their grandkids. I see this as an opportunity to get involved and make a difference.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]