AUGUSTA — From wild Phish concerts and country crooners to sometimes also-wild state political conventions and trade shows in industries ranging from medical marijuana to quilting, Dana Colwill has hosted them all as director of the Augusta Civic Center.

But the next event the Farmingdale resident will attend at the city-owned entertainment and conference venue will be as a spectator, not administrator.

Colwill, director of the Augusta Civic Center for the last 11 years and administrator there for 19 years, stepped down from the job last week, saying it’s time for someone else to take over.

“You just know when it’s time,” Colwill said of retiring from the city job. “I realized about a year ago it was time to move on, maybe do something different. I felt I didn’t have the desire I had that first 18 years. I could ride it out, but that’s not fair to anyone. You become complacent, and that’s not fair to the building, to the community.”

He announced his plans to step down from the job in February, giving the city plenty of time to work on finding a replacement.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city conducted a national search for the facility’s next director, he has been reviewing resumes and expects to have a recommendation soon on whom to hire.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to fill, or do. The job is as much ambassador as it is administrator, with a heavy dose of problem-solving skills needed, Mayor David Rollins noted while presenting Colwill with a proclamation declaring Friday to be Dana Colwill Day in Augusta, with Colwill’s wife, Suzanne, and adult son Corey in attendance.

“You might be the No. 1 ambassador for the city of Augusta,” Rollins told Colwill. “For so many people who come to Augusta, their first experience here is at the Augusta Civic Center. I don’t know of any group of city employees that affects our image more than you. You’ve represented us fully, capably and honorably.”

Bridgeo and Colwill said the building is well positioned to be sustainable into the future.

“Financially, things are better than I’ve seen in my 11 years, which I feel good about,” Colwill said. “The building is in great shape. I think the success of this building is not due to me; it’s due to the staff that work here. What a wonderful facility this has been for Augusta, Maine. It’s a true asset for this area. Look back, 15, 20 years ago, across the street (where the large Marketplace at Augusta now stands) there was nothing. This has been an economic catalyst for this community.”

Colwill, 55, plans to take some time off and then seek part-time work, but probably not in the entertainment and conference venue industry. He said he feels fortunate to be able to take some time off to step back and relax.

Among the less-relaxing events, for Colwill anyway, during his time at the civic center was the 2010 concert by the Vermont-based jam band Phish, which sold out in 20 minutes and drew some 7,000 people.

“The Phish concert was a challenging event. We worked three months preparing for that, and all the sideshows, working with law enforcement and fire, and all the things going on in the parking lot, and security. … That was a scary night,” Colwill said. “I was very glad when 11 p.m. rolled around. And we had a big convention moving in at 8 the next morning. We sold $40,000 worth of beer that night, but it went very well. Very smoothly.”

He said Phish also came with requirements not sought by other acts, such as making available containers for the disposal of recyclable items throughout the facility and parking lot.

“They’re a very ‘green’ band, so there were a lot of vendors dropping off bins for different items. A lot of coordination was required. But they were excellent. They had a green team that assisted us in cleaning the parking lot afterwards.”

Colwill, a fan of country music and classic rock, said his personal favorite concert at the civic center was Alison Krauss & Union Station, in 2005.

In recent years, as its concert business has declined in part because new, larger facilities are available in Bangor, the Augusta Civic Center has thrived in the niche of providing convention, conference, trade show and meeting space. Colwill said the civic center, including its main auditorium and 23 meeting rooms, has events an average of 320 days a year, with the auditorium, which hosts sporting events such as state basketball tournaments, concerts and large trade shows, booked an average of 221 days a year.

Those events, together, bring in about 325,000 people a year.

The facility, which has its own kitchens and offers catering for a wide range of events, has 107 employees, 14 of them full-time.

Other events at the civic center have included a heated 2012 Republican State Convention at which Ron Paul supporters turned out in large numbers and sparred for control of the convention with Mitt Romney supporters.

In 2011 the civic center was the site of Home Grown Maine, the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine’s first-ever trade show. The event included a tent setup in the parking lot, where medical marijuana users with the proper legal documentation were allowed to use marijuana, but not smoke it, because no smoking is allowed on the property. Instead they used vaporizers, inside the tent, to medicate during the trade show going on in inside the auditorium.

Bridgeo and Colwill both said they think the civic center is best run by city employees, who know the area, building and people, rather than an outside firm, as is done in some other similar facilities.

“I’d be very concerned if a management company were to come in from outside and run this building,” Colwill said. “It’s a very unique building. It’s not Portland. It’s not Bangor. We have a lot of conventions and trade shows. I think it is important to have local people running this building, that know the customers; but that won’t be my call.”

Colwill was hired as assistant director 19 years ago and was Bridgeo’s nominee to become director when David Jowdry left the job 11 years ago.

“It was a no-brainer who the nomination ought to be. The City Council agreed there was no need to bother with a search process. The right person was right here in out midst,” Bridgeo said of Colwill. “Ever since that day, he’s done a marvelous job. It’s a very difficult job. Unlike most other city departments, the Augusta Civic Center has got to be run like a business if it’s going to succeed. People who’ve had business with him love him; I heard it over and over. Dana has been the consummate professional. Never for a minute have I had to worry about the operation of the civic center. He’s been very conscientious, really dedicated to the civic center and city.”

Though the facility is not expected to reach the break-even point — likely falling about $75,000 short of balancing its roughly $2.6 million budget this year — Bridgeo noted some 90 percent of similar publicly owned conference and concert facilities across the country are subsidized by the entities that own them. He said over the years the civic center tends to break even over time and that the facility has been paying off its own debt. Also, it generates income for numerous businesses and workers in the people it brings to the city.

Colwill noted next year will be the first year the facility won’t have to pay any depreciation to pay off the original bonding to build the civic center. This year that was almost $89,000, a major expense the facility won’t have next year.

The building also recently has undergone major renovation to make it more energy-efficient, with the cost of the upgrades expected to be paid for with savings from the new systems’ more efficient operations.

Bridgeo said Colwill is modest when he credits other employees for the civic center’s success in bringing people, and their money, to the city.

Of Colwill, Bridgeo said, “He’s leaving at the top of his game.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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