WATERVILLE — Mayor Karen Heck over the last three years helped to revitalize the airport, encourage hospitals and colleges to contribute to the city, get young people involved in government and promote the arts and culture.

She is proud of what she did, but frustrated about what she was not able to accomplish, she said.

“I wish that I had been able to get the economic development groups together to think about economic development in another way,” she said. “I think they all work hard at what they’re doing, but I think they could do it in ways that would be more efficient.”

Heck, the unenrolled mayor who leaves office Jan. 6 to be succeeded by Republican Nick Isgro, said those economic development drivers include Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, Central Maine Growth Council, Waterville Main Street, Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, Business & Career Center at Waterville Public Library, Waterville Creates, Inland and MaineGeneral hospitals, Colby and Thomas colleges and Waterville Development Corp.

Heck said she thinks someone needs to call everyone together to identify priorities and decide who can play what role in moving those goals ahead.

“Part of the problem is, a lot of the people serve on several boards,” Heck said Monday. “It’s a waste of energy, it’s a waste of talent, people get scattered. No one has been willing to pull people together and say, ‘Let’s develop a plan,’ like Augusta has.”

Heck contends that people skilled in writing grant applications should write grant applications, those who know how to do mapping should do mapping, and an inventory and database of vacant buildings should be created so when someone comes to town asking for a certain type of building, he can go to one source to find answers.

“Not everyone needs to know how to write a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) or federal grant,” she said. “Not everyone has to have the answer to every question or do the marketing, grant writing, business retention, business recruitment. There has been no real coordination strategy session that I can tell, that’s gone on.”

Hathaway Creative Center developer Paul Boghossian has put millions of dollars and hundreds of dollars of his own time creating the Hathaway building on Water Street, and people should get behind him to help develop his adjacent buildings, Heck contends.

“It seems to me that whatever we could do to move the CMP or Lockwood building forward, we should be making that a priority,” she said. “It’s a huge opportunity for Waterville.”

Boghossian in the past talked about possibly opening a hotel and conference center in one of those former mill buildings. Heck says there is no place in Waterville that can house, feed and offer conference space for 200 people. When an Educare conference last summer drew people from all over the country, it had to be held at the Samoset in Rockport, she said.

“How crazy is that? These are the kinds of things we just could have paid more attention to,” Heck said

Heck on Monday morning had breakfast with Thomas College President Laurie Lachance. She said she is convinced Lachance will be able to pull people together to coordinate an economic development strategy. She said she also has spoken with the philanthropic Alfond family, which is interested in helping, but without a concrete plan, there is no clear direction.

“Let’s put this stuff together and start working on it,” she said. “We have an amazing opportunity. We have kids at Mid-Maine Technical Center, Thomas College, Kennebec Valley Community College and Colby College, many of whom would stay here. We should be thinking about how best to get them engaged with paid internships, entrepreneurial think tanks, little incubators. There’s so much we could be doing, and I think too much time has been spent looking for the next big thing. In the twenty-first century, economic development is not ‘the next big thing.’ We have incredible, incredible assets here.”

Heck cited a large call center as an example of what some people see as “the next big thing.”

“There’s so much in this area, so many good, creative, supportive, thinking, working people. I just think we can be doing it in a more coordinated way.”

Heck, who entered office three years ago saying she would serve only one term so as to let someone else serve, said she plans to stay in Waterville and remain active in community activities, but she will stay away from politics.

“I’m not running for anything,” she said. “Being mayor was the best job I could have had. I totally loved it. People were always excited about things starting because they thought they could. It was a really good attitude the last three years that I so totally appreciate.”

Heck and her partner, Bruce Olson, own Tree Spirits winery in Oakland, where she says she will continue to work.

“I’m not going anywhere. I still have the winery and my new venture at the winery is making beauty products — organic facial scrubs, lotion …”

Heck endorsed Isgro, 33, for mayor and says she is confident he will push for the city to get the revenue sharing the state owes it.

“Waterville is an economic engine,” she said. “We generate a substantial part of the revenue that’s going into the general fund and we were promised 5 percent. Without revenue sharing and excise tax, both of which the governor wants to take away, we don’t have anything but property taxes. So I love the fact that he (Isgro) is a Republican and can talk about that to his peeps.”

Heck said being mayor took a lot of energy, and she is exhausted but happy to have served.

She said Black Bear Aviation early in the year started leasing part of the city’s hangar at the city’s renovated Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport and now is expanding to use the entire hangar.

“That is a huge, huge leap forward for us,” she said.

Jewel of India and Loyal Biscuit opened downtown, MaineGeneral moved 350 employees to Hathaway, Inland Hospital moved downtown and has supported the arts, and the colleges also have contributed, she said. The city has seen an increase in revenue from building project permits, and the Seton Unit of MaineGeneral Medical Center was sold to Kevin Mattson, putting it back on the tax rolls, Heck said. Seton is located on Chase Avenue.

“I said to (hospital executives), please, please, please sell it to somebody for a for-profit,” Heck said. “We were lucky Kevin Mattson purchased it, and 45 acres around Seton is now on the tax rolls,” she said.

She cited the Poverty Action Coalition and Project 2020 as further accomplishments. Heck called people together to work on making sure that by 2020 children are reading at grade level by the time they reach third grade. She also got people talking about how resources may be coordinated to helping people receive business training, obtain general educational development certificates and progress in other ways.

She said she appreciates the support she received in her endeavors.

“Thanks to all the people who have participated in the last three years and to those who gave me a chance to be a part of the progress that the city has experienced,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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