GARDINER — On her second day on the job, Tracey Steuber was on the phone fielding questions about property in Gardiner and still getting settled in the her small box of an office.

As Gardiner’s new director of development and planning, Steuber, 57, will be responsible — among a wide range of other duties — for attracting and keeping businesses in Gardiner, helping existing businesses expand and managing the tools available to her, including tax increment financing and credit enhancement agreements.

She comes to Gardiner with six years of experience as the director of economic and community development in Lisbon, and five years working in the Auburn’s Economic and Community Development Office. She also brings experience in marketing, public relations, event management and fundraising.

Mayor Patricia Hart said the timing of Steuber’s arrival is good.

“The two goals of the City Council that were articulated through the Comprehensive Plan are expanding the population and growing the business base,” Hart said. “Economic development fits in with supporting both of those goals.”

Next week, the City Council is expected to start considering a number of proposed changes to city ordinances arising from 2014 Comprehensive Plan. To get to this point, Hart said, has taken a commitment of time and work from volunteers and from Mark Eyerman, the city’s contracted planner.

“The timing is right for Tracey to be here to guide us through the new changes and have us all see what we were looking forward to implementing,” she said.

While Gardiner has a smaller population than Lisbon, the two communities were built around mills and manufacturing in the 19th and 20th centuries. Also, both are now remaking themselves after the decline in manufacturing across New England and the closure of mills.

Now, Steuber said, being able to be part of seeing some growth in Gardiner drew her to the job.

“I think Gardiner has a lot to offer in the way of the downtown, the activity of the Main Street group, Johnson Hall and being close to the capital,” she said. “Even though it’s a small city, it’s a large city in terms of the traffic that comes through.”

Quality of life works hand-in-hand with economic development.

“Quality of life, you’ve got to look at everything as a whole,” Steuber said.

That includes looking at the school district and nearby colleges and universities and their programs and activities as well as what there is to do.

“Gardiner has all the elements. It has the waterfront, it has the downtown, and again the restaurants and the shops. It’s the activities and special events in the communities,” Steuber said. “But it’s also the close proximity to other things. If you want to go to the ocean, you’re not far from the ocean. If you want to go to the mountains, you can go there.”

In addition, Gardiner offers public safety and full-time fire protection and proximity to hospitals, she said. Gardiner can offer access to the kinds of things offered by larger cities but without the traffic congestion.

When Steuber began working in Lisbon, longtime residents told her it was a town people passed through on their way to other places, and they had no reason to stop on their way to Lewiston or Topsham.

“It was an area that really needed help,” she said.

Lisbon Town Manager Diane Barnes said Wednesday that in the five years they worked together, Lisbon’s downtown transformed from a neighborhood with empty storefronts to a full and lively downtown.

“Now, we have a parking problem,” Barnes said.

While working in Lisbon, she took on organizing the annual Moxie Festival, heading up the design of the new website.

But the accomplishment of which she is most proud is securing $1 million in grants in three years for the town for building facade improvements, brownfield assessment, and two downtown grants from the Community Development Block Grant program in 2016 and 2018.

Steuber credits the grants, as well as investments by community members, with bringing Lisbon’s downtown to full capacity.

“It’s an area that was not seeing anything, to definitely there’s activity in the evening with two great restaurants serving downtown and specialty shops,” she said.

Steuber said she was also able to work with a developer from Topsham to interest him enough to build a Rusty Lantern Market convenience store there.

Barnes said Steuber’s connections with state officials coupled with her understanding of the needs of the community helped her create successful grant proposals.

“She can see the full picture, of how to tie everything together to leverage that,” Barnes said. “I can’t replace the person but I can replace the position.”

Gardiner had a full-time economic development director for a number of years until the end of 2014, when Nate Rudy wrapped up three and a half years as the city’s economic development director to take the position of executive director at Waterville Create!, a collaborative group established to promote Waterville as an arts destination.

In the wake of that move, then-City Manager Scott Morelli took on some economic development duties, and others were assigned via a contract to Patrick Wright, who was then the executive director of Gardiner Maine Street. When Wright left that position a little over a year ago, he also gave up the city economic development post and Gardiner Maine Street opted not to continue to provide those services as it searched for its next executive director.

The City Council debated whether the position ought to be full time both during and after its search for a city manager and considered several options.

Initially, the City Council approved funds to pay for a partial year’s salary for an economic development and planning director. After a national search, Thomas Fiorelli accepted the position in February, but announced he was leaving just three months later, citing staff changes and his fears about an increasing city budget and its impact on residents.

Landes posted the vacancy and in early July announced that Steuber had been hired. In announcing the hire, she enumerated Steuber’s broad experience.

“(She has)  a personal interest in making each business in our city a success,” Landes said in a provided statement. “The city of Gardiner is fortunate to have Ms. Steuber join the management team and lead her department to its full potential.”

“I want people to know that I am available, that I want to meet with them, I want to hear their thoughts, their ideas of what they want to see for the community,” Steuber said. “I want to keep my ears and eyes open as we move forward.”

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