GARDINER — Three years after Melissa Lindley left Gardiner Main Street, she has returned, this time as executive director.

Lindley, 40, steps into her new role at the end of this week; Friday will be her first full day.

When she left Gardiner Main Street and Gardiner three years ago, her return to both was not necessarily in the cards.

In 2016, Lindley and her family moved to San Diego after her husband was transferred there through his job.

“We wanted to escape winter and try something new,” she said Tuesday.

But shifting from a small New England city to a sprawling southern California metroplex was not an easy transition.

“I didn’t want my daughters to grow up in that environment,” Lindley said.

When they returned in 2018, Lindley continued to work remotely in marketing for a nonprofit organization that raises money for schools.

But that’s not where her passion lies.

Earlier this year, Lindley got a call to see whether she was interested in helping out with Gardiner Main Street events, given her experience with the organization, and she couldn’t say no.

“I was happy to help,” she said.

As the summer went on, and it became clear to the board of Gardiner Main Street that a full-time executive director would be needed, the board turned to Lindley.

“What drew me to it was I live here,” she said. “Aside from my two years in San Diego, it’s been my home, it’s where my kids grew up.”

Lindley said years ago she had been initially recruited as a volunteer for Gardiner Main Street by Patrick Wright, the executive director at the time. Eventually she started working as a part-time program coordinator.

“I just wanted to make Gardiner a great place to live and be proud of my town,” she said.

As Lindley prepares to start full-time, Melinda Hahn, who had been director of programming and communications for Gardiner Main Street, is stepping down to take a job in Aroostook County.

In the immediate future, the organization has its sights set on Swine & Stein, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Oct. 12.

“Right now, my focus is on maintaining our events, and Swine & Stein is front and center,” Lindley said.

Aside from the events, Lindley will start reconnecting with downtown businesses. Sometime soon, Gardiner Main Street is expected to host an event to hear from business owners about what the organization’s priorities ought to be.

In May, Piper Panzeri announced she was stepping down as executive director. At the same time, the organization was giving up its office in the Dingley Block — 141-165 Water St. — that Gardiner Main Street had acquired in 2016 from Camden National Bank for $1, with a plan to see the buildings returned to productive use.

Last winter, Gardiner Main Street sold 161 and 165 Water St. to Alan Claude Inc., which plans to open a gallery in the property and have a workshop on the upper floors. Roger Bintliff bought 141- 153 Water St. A portion has been leased to Bateau Brewing, and Bintliff has plans for a restaurant in that building.

Before Panzeri was hired, Wright had served as executive director of Gardiner Main Street and economic development coordinator for the city of Gardiner under a contract with the city.

Now that the city has hired Tracey Steuber as its economic development and planning director, Gardiner Main Street’s work can focus on its program directives of building and maintaining a vital downtown.

“This is exciting right now,” Dawn Thistle, Gardiner Main Street board president, said. “We (the city) have economic development and we’re able to get Gardiner Main Street back to its core purpose.  And we have someone with experience with the organization. She’s been with us in this interim transition phase and she’s ready to hit the ground running.”

Eventually, the organization will also find a new office. Gardiner Main Street has spent the summer operating out of a space in the Gardiner Public Library’s Archive Room.

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