This is the first of a two-part column. The second part will run next week.
By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
mayor of lewiston
The start of this year marks my final year as Mayor of Lewiston, as well as the completion of Ed Barrett’s first year as Lewiston’s city administrator. I firmly believe that I speak on behalf of the entire Lewiston City Council when I say that it has been an extreme pleasure for all of us to work with Ed during this past year.
He is the ultimate professional in his field and simply a wonderful person to be affiliated with. I count my blessings having Ed as our city administrator during my final term of office.
In order for you, the readers, to get to know Ed Barrett a little better, as we on the city council and city staff do, I thought I would submit a list of interview questions for him to answer. Since it is a bit lengthy to better get to know him and his lovely wife Nancy, this particular column will be in two parts starting this week and ending next week. So here goes.
Ed, as we get into the New Year it will be the start of your second year as Lewiston’s city administrator. What are your thoughts about coming to Lewiston and serving your first year here?
Nancy and I are pleased with our move to Lewiston. Everyone we have met has been both gracious and welcoming as I became familiar with my new position and we both learned about the community.
City staff has been super in helping me to become familiar with city government. I’ve been impressed with the city council’s commitment to the community and the professional approach it has taken to the major issues we have faced his year. It has been a challenging first year, given the state of the economy and the reductions in state aid that Maine’s municipalities faced.
Lewiston has made great strides over the last several decades in transitioning its economy from traditional industries to new opportunities in such areas as health care, telecommunications and business services.
While the recession has had an impact and slowed things down, Lewiston is better positioned now than in the past to take advantage of an improving economy. We need to build on the strategic investments that have been made in our downtown, mill district, school department and waterfront and continue to find ways to capitalize on these assets as we look to the future. The Lewiston-Auburn waterfronts can provide great amenities to our residents and an attraction for those from away.
Would you please give us a brief historical background in your lifetime of public service? Where you served and what positions you held?
I began my career in local government as a budget and research analyst with the City of Tucson, Arizona, where I eventually advanced to the position of Budget and Research Supervisor overseeing a group that undertook performance audits of various city departments.
From Tucson, I moved to Wichita Falls, Texas as that community’s Director of Administration and, eventually, Assistant City Manager.
After seven years in Texas, I became City Manager in Bangor, a position I held for 21 years before coming to Lewiston as City Administrator last January.
Where did you start out in life and what schools and degrees have you earned as part of your educational experience?
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and grew up in an ethnic neighborhood on the city’s east side, where I attended a variety of Catholic schools and graduated from St. Joseph High School. I then attended the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, where I received both an undergraduate and Master’s degree in Political Science. I then did three years of additional graduate work toward a Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
You served as City Manager for the City of Bangor. Would you please tell us a bit of your experience there?
When I arrived in Bangor, four of the largest downtown buildings had been vacant for years, and those businesses that remained downtown were struggling. The city’s waterfront was dominated by a railroad yard and a series of old and outdated buildings. The city’s park system had not received any significant attention in decades. For these and other reasons, the community had lost some faith in itself as a place to live and work.
We focused on reinventing our downtown through encouraging residential redevelopment of vacant upper floors and supported arts and cultural anchors, such as the Maine Discovery Museum, University of Maine Museum of Art and an expanded Bangor Public Library to bring people to downtown. As a result of these and other efforts, restaurants and other specialty retailers returned to downtown and it became a vibrant and active neighborhood.
A plan to revitalize the riverfront was adopted and has been slowly implemented over the past 20 years, refocusing the community on its river history and providing attractive areas for residents and visitors to use—including the American Folk Festival and this past year’s major outdoor concert series.
The city’s system of neighborhood parks was renovated, and the city forest system was enhanced, especially through creation of a 600-acre urban forest near the Bangor Mall.
These and other efforts changed the community’s view of itself and its role in Maine. Instead of simply being the home of the Bangor Mall where Northern and Eastern Maine came to shop, Bangor became a place to live, to work and to invest. This was a long process of renewal, which required a multi-decade commitment from City Councils, staff and the community. I am proud to have been a part of that effort.
In looking to this New Year, where do you envision the city heading during this year?
Over the coming year, we plan to focus our efforts on the city’s riverfront. With the help of a federal earmark, we will be hiring a consultant to assist us in developing a master plan for the area bounded by Canal Street, Cedar Street and the River and including Island Point. This area has tremendous potential to provide amenities and attractions to residents and visitors.
Where we once turned our back on the Androscoggin, the environmental improvements that have been made over decades now make the river a tremendous asset that can serve as a focal point for mixed use development of this area, including continued reuse of the Bates Mill complex.
At the same time, we must continue to preserve and enhance the commercial areas along Lisbon and Main Streets. This past year has seen continued improvements in this area with a number of renovation projects either planned or underway.
A redeveloped riverfront and revitalized downtown commercial area can complement each other, create a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood and establish a firm base for Lewiston’s future.
At the same time, we must continue to work toward a stronger economy through infrastructure projects necessary to support the South Lewiston Growth Area, including improvements to Exit 80 and its connection to Lisbon Street and River Road. Finally, we must maintain a focus on our dense, in-town neighborhoods and continue efforts to ensure safe, affordable and mixed-income housing.
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.