GARDINER — After nearly seven years with Gardiner Main Street, its executive director has announced he is leaving.

Sitting in his office overlooking the Kennebec River this week, Patrick Wright said over the last six months, he’s been thinking about his career and family and what his next steps might be.

“The main reason I have chosen to move on is that I need to spend more time with my family,” he said. “I look back to where my kids were seven years ago, and in seven years from now they will essentially be out of the house. I am calling this my kid-life crisis.”

Wright and his wife have a daughter, 12, and a son, 10.

Robert Abbey, president of the Gardiner Main Street board, said Tuesday that it’s a characteristic of highly effective employees and leaders to know when it’s time to seek out a new challenge.

“Whoever hires him or partners with him will be extremely fortunate,” Abbey said. “He’s a rare person in the nonprofit field.”

Abbey, who joined Gardiner Main Street not long after Wright was hired, said he thought former City Councilor Philip Hart had it right when Hart said having Wright in that position was like turning on a light in a dark room.

“He works to excellence,” Abbey said. “He exceeds all expectations.”

The sentiment is shared beyond the Gardiner Main Street board.

“Patrick is one of the finest people I have ever worked with in my life, and I am going to miss him,” Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett said Tuesday. “He’s incredibly skilled. He helped put Gardiner in a spot where few people imagined we would be.”

Wright said when he started at Gardiner Main Street, he made a commitment to stay for five years; and when he reached that point two years ago, he reminded his board of that.

“I have been transparent with my board, and we have talked about succession plans and what that might look like,” he said.

In this case, it looks like Wright plans to stay through May.

The job posting for the organization’s next executive director has been posted and will be open through February. Interviews will take place in March. An offer is likely to be extended in April, and he would spend May bringing his replacement up to speed.

Wright, who is also the city’s economic development coordinator, also is giving up that post. Between now and then, he said, he is willing to continue in a transition process to be available to wrap up the projects he’s working on, including the redevelopment of the former T.W. Dick property on Summer Street, and the Cobbossee Trail project.

Before starting at Gardiner Main Street in 2011, Wright was a business development specialist for the Midcoast Economic Development District and the planning and development director for the town of Waldoboro. Before that, he taught at Hyde School in Bath.

When he arrived in the city, Gardiner Main Street had a credibility problem. He was the fourth director to be hired in four years.

Wright said he wanted bring stability to the organization and build confidence in the Main Street program, which is designed to foster the economic and cultural vitality of downtown Gardiner.

Over time, Gardiner Main Street was able to take a more intentional approach to fundraising, have greater success with its events, attract more volunteers and develop a strong board to guide the organization.

“We built a volunteer network, built engagement and built a community-based organization,” he said. “That’s why it will be strong.”

When he started, many of his goals revolved around how many vacancies were in downtown Gardiner and how many businesses could be recruited. He said he came to learn that those are external factors that can’t be controlled.

“What I am most proud of is what we have been able to accomplish with the factors we can control. We have put Gardiner in a unique position to thrive,” he said.

“The biggest difference in Gardiner from when I started is its own belief in itself. I see the community taking ownership for its future. For a long time, this community has been backward-looking, believing that our best days were behind us,” he said. “There’s a different attitude here now. Instead of looking at what’s lacking, we’re now celebrating what we have, and considering how to enhance our assets.”

Wright is not letting go entirely; he plans to continue his role with Johnson Hall as the historic opera house continues to raise money to renovate its upper floors, and he has committed himself to serve as the chairman of the building committee that will oversee the redevelopment of the five buildings Gardiner Main Street acquired from Camden National Bank in 2016.

Abbey said that shift will help in recruitment efforts to fill the upcoming vacancy. Board members are networking and talking about the position wherever they feel it will do the most good.

The new candidate won’t be tasked with being the city’s economic development coordinator. Harnett said that might change what city elected officials are looking for now that the search for a new city manager has started again.

While some people will be saddened that Wright is leaving, and they might be nervous and a little frightened, Gardiner Main Street has a stable and strong base that will allow someone to come in and succeed in a different way, he said.

“We think Gardiner has turned that corner, and someone will be able to recognize that and want to work here,” Harnett said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

 

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