The head of Gardiner’s economic development program who spearheaded a two-year planning effort that resulted in a new comprehensive plan for the city has left the post to lead a fledgling Waterville nonprofit organization.

Nate Rudy was director of economic and community development in Gardiner for about three and a half years before leaving last week. Rudy, 39, is set to start next week as executive director of Waterville Creates, a collaborative group established to promote Waterville as an arts destination.

While in Gardiner, Rudy helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding from the Orton Family Foundation for the two-year Heart & Soul planning project and for assessing possible containments in the downtown area from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Rudy, a Winthrop resident, was also a key driver in the city to establish a process for the reuse of older buildings.

City Manager Scott Morelli said Rudy, along with the Heart & Soul process, was instrumental in connecting people from different community groups and getting them to work together. Rudy was focused on developing the community and pursuing ideas that would help the city in the future, Morelli said.

“I think his legacy will really be one that has set us up for long-term success. We’ll certainly miss him,” Morelli said.

As part of a cost-saving proposal, Morelli plans to recommend the City Council not fill Rudy’s position. Morelli is proposing to distribute some duties to other staff members and to contract other duties to outside consultants.

The projected $28,000 in savings will help cover the $500,000-plus deficit the city expects to face in its budget next year, Morelli said.

The Orton Family Foundation, a Vermont-based nonprofit group that provides money and technical and advisory resources to communities for planning, awarded the city a $100,000 grant at the end of 2011 to help it develop a new comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan, approved by councilors over the summer, deals mostly with zoning and planning issues, but it also includes community goals and policy suggestions.

One of those policy suggestions Rudy pushed for — finding a way to allow new uses in older buildings — was enacted by the city in June.

The adaptive overlay district allows the city to approve some commercial uses in large buildings that weren’t built as homes but are in the high-density residential district.

The policy change paved the way for the founder of a start-up hard cider producer, Lost Orchard Brewing Co., to begin the process of opening in the former Gardiner Congregational Church on Church Street.

The group that plans to open the Gardiner Food Co-op & Cafe in downtown Gardiner early next year actually looked at opening its operations in the former church building two years ago, but the city’s zoning ordinances didn’t allow it. The city’s Planning Board turned down proposed changes at the time that would have altered the zoning rules on several older buildings along Church Street.

During his tenure with the city, Rudy also became the real estate agent for its business park off U.S. Route 201, Libby Hill Business Park. Within the last year, the city sold one lot and has two under contract, the first action in the business park since 2011.

Bill Lovely, who bought one of the lots to build a slaughterhouse, said Rudy helped him establish the slaughterhouse and his meat processing center, Northeast Meats. Lovely, owner of ABJ Contractor in Gardiner, plans to open the poultry side of the slaughterhouse by Jan. 1 and the red meat side by Feb. 1. Both will be U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected slaughterhouses.

Lovely said Rudy helped him navigate the city’s approval processes and deal with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“He was very helpful,” Lovely said. “I don’t give people credit often, but he’s one we have to give credit. Like I said, I hate to see him go.”

Rudy said he’s pleased with his office’s involvement in the Heart & Soul process and the collaboration between the city and community groups, such as Gardiner Main Street and Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center. The collaborations with the community organizations were instrumental to the success the city has had promoting Gardiner as a premier location for both families and businesses, he said.

“Many of our messaging about Gardiner’s local economy were messages about downtown, small business culture as much as larger partners out at the business park. It’s important for communities to bear in mind that it takes businesses of all shapes and sizes to make an economy work,” Rudy said.

The partnership with Gardiner Main Street, a downtown revitalization organization, resulted in programs and events that attracted attention the city hadn’t seen in a while, Rudy said. Those include the annual Swine & Stein Oktoberfest and a downtown business incentive program that brought Frosty’s Donuts to Water Street.

Part of the city’s contribution to the downtown incentive program was a new policy that will give developers tax breaks for doing renovations to the upper floors of downtown buildings or adding elevators.

“There are so many communities in Maine that are working toward this common goal of a sustainable economy that embraces both large business and small and local business,” Rudy said. “We’ve been out there as an example community all around the state and around the country really, especially through the success of the Gardiner Main Street Program.”

Rudy said the strength of Gardiner’s community is what carried it through difficult financial times and is what’s attractive to people when they visit.

“I feel that it’s in very good hands with the leadership at City Hall and the very dedicated and conscientious community leaders who serve the greater good there and understand the values,” he said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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