GARDINER — The head of the regional development organization that operates FirstPark in Oakland told city councilors Wednesday night that the plan member communities bought into nearly two decades ago was flawed, but he pitched an alternative plan for its future.

Brad Jackson, executive director of the Kennebec Regional Development Authority, outlined a vision of moving beyond the business park and becoming a more robust regional development authority with the ability to provide financing and other services to prospective businesses.

Since the development authority was created in 1998, the 24 Kennebec and Somerset County communities that joined the organization have lost more than $5 million. Job totals in the park have hovered around several hundred, well below the 3,000 jobs in 20 years the founders predicted.

But Jackson said the organization now plans to explore the possibility of becoming a bonding agency to connect businesses to tax-free federal loans in exchange for brokerage fees.

The goal is to fund the organization through fees from companies rather than contributions from taxpayers, he said. Jackson was inspired by his years running a development authority in New York, which was able to do bonding, he said.

The presentation to Gardiner city councilors Wednesday night was part of Jackson’s tour of the communities in the organization. Jackson has outlined his plans for the future of the organization to about 10 of its 24 communities since February and plans on visiting most of the remaining towns by June, he said.

Jackson said there aren’t any other development authorities in the state that do what he is proposing. But the path to get there isn’t known.

Jackson said he doesn’t know whether the process to expand the authority’s reach would require additional legislation or changes to the municipal agreements or if it’s possible at all. The organization’s $1.01 million budget approved last month provided an additional $25,000 to look into how the authority could broaden its ability to offer other services and to develop ideas to generate new revenue.

The 24 communities have been paying $587,000 a year to fund the authority and FirstPark, and cities and towns are expected to get back $255,000 in revenue this year.

In Gardiner, the city will pay about $32,000 to the organization and receive about $14,000 in revenue. Since 1998, the city has lost more than $330,000 on the investment.

The communities aren’t projected to begin receiving positive annual returns until the debt is paid off in 2021, according to figures provided by Jackson to Gardiner. Assuming the remaining seven serviceable lots are sold, the communities’ net returns are projected to become positive in 2034-2035.

Selling real estate is one of the hardest ways of making money in the economic development field, Jackson said. FirstPark was designed to be a corporate business park in an area where there isn’t much demand for corporate offices, he said.

“Everybody bought into a faulty business model and a faulty assumption,” he said.

Some councilors expressed concerns about the amount of money the city has poured into the organization and whether FirstPark is competing with the city’s own business park, Libby Hill Business Park, but no councilors expressed objections to Jackson’s vision to expand the authority’s powers.

Councilor Maureen Blanchard also asked Jackson about the legal opinion of the city’s attorney that Gardiner joined the development authority incorrectly in 1999. In the opinion presented to councilors last November, the attorney wrote that the city should have held a referendum and not a City Council vote.

Councilors haven’t moved toward taking any action on the opinion so far, and Jackson said he couldn’t address the issue because it was well before he was hired.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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