GARDINER — After a year with Gardiner Main Street, its executive director has stepped down.

Piper Panzeri, whose contract wrapped up Tuesday, worked during her time with the downtown development organization to highlight the riverfront city and to showcase its attributes. She also continued work on projects underway when she was hired — finding buyers to develop the historic Dingley Block on Water Street, and to update and expand the group’s web presence.

Panzeri’s departure is just one of the changes coming to the organization in the months ahead. Gardiner Main Street also will be looking for a new permanent home for its office and will be evaluating its community role.

“Right now, we’re focusing on our coming events, particularly the Greater Gardiner River Festival, which is in June,” board President Dawn Thistle said. “We’re also working on plans for our 10th annual Swine & Stein Oktoberfest.”

All of that will be done with the help of  Melinda Hahn, Gardiner Main Street’s director of programming and communications, Thistle said.

In the past year, Panzeri said, more people have come to Gardiner than at any other time.

They came for Riverfest and Swine & Stein and 10 other events that Gardiner Main Street puts on annually. And they came for the Great Race, a rally-style race of antique and vintage cars that stopped in Gardiner at the end of June and left from Augusta the next day, and the arrival in mid-July of the Wall that Heals, a scaled-down traveling version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that stands on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The events drew volunteers from around the area, and from Gardiner Main Street’s ranks and board. The efforts paid off; Gardiner was named Best Overnight City by the Great Race.

“As I reflect on the past year, I’m proud of our team, the support we’ve offered new and existing businesses, our free family-friendly events, and the many ways our streetscape committee makes Gardiner’s downtown picture-perfect once the snow melts,” Panzeri said. “It’s overwhelming when I think about what the organization has accomplished in 12 short months.”

Panzeri has referred to the riverfront city as Stars Hollow, the fictional town in the television show “Gilmore Girls,” for its charm and sense of community.

In addition to rebuilding the Gardiner Main Street website, Panzeri worked to launch the Discover Gardiner website. It highlights Gardiner’s history, its arts organizations, craft beverages and cuisine, and recreational opportunities.

While Panzeri worked there, the second position in the office, which had been part-time, became the full-time programming and communications position.

But with changes in her family, she is considering other options. Her wife, Emily Davies, left the Gardiner Police Department earlier this year with plans to go to graduate school.

Panzeri, who has a wide range of experience in her background, including years as a teacher and a professional Maine guide, said she enjoyed her time with Gardiner Main Street and her time in the city. Looking forward, she said she’s looking for an opportunity with a commute.

“I miss listening to NPR on the way to and from work and having that time to decompress,” she said. “I secretly can’t wait to enjoy Gardiner without feeling like I’m at work every time I walk downtown. That being said, there is endless opportunity in this little city on the Kennebec to live, work and play.”

“We’re happy with the work that Piper has accomplished for Gardiner Main Street,” Thistle said this week, “especially in stewarding the sale of the five historic buildings, refreshing our online presence and creating the brand new site, Discover Gardiner.”

Perhaps the most critical accomplishment was finding buyers for the Dingley Block, five buildings on Water Street that Gardiner Main Street acquired in 2016 for $1 from Camden National Bank, with the expectation that the vacant buildings could be put back into productive use.

Alan Claude Inc. bought 161 and 165 Water St., with plans to open a gallery in 2020 and to move Claude’s workshop to the upper floors.

149 Water Street LLC, a company of Roger Bintliff, bought 141, 145, 149 and 153 Water St. A portion of that property has been leased to Bateau Brewing, which has plans to open an industrial-style brewery and tasting room overlooking the Kennebec River later this year. Bintliff also has plans to open Bintliff’s American Cafe and Restaurant about the same time.

Gardiner Main Street had moved its offices at 149 Water St. after its acquisition of the buildings. But now that construction is underway, the office is looking for a new home.

Thistle said in the short term, the streamlined office is moving to space in the Gardiner Public Library.

In the near future, Thistle said, one of Gardiner Main Street’s critical responsibilities will be working with city officials to keep area residents and business owners updated on the progress of the Maine Department of Transportation’s project to replace the two bridges that cross Cobbosseecontee Stream.

Both the Bridge Street and Maine Avenue bridges are being replaced, and a pedestrian bridge is being added parallel to the Maine Avenue bridge. The work also includes work on two Water Street intersections, where Maine Avenue becomes Church Street, and where Bridge Street becomes Brunswick Avenue.


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