Auburn hires downtown coordinator to take on revitalization goals

·4 min read

Jan. 7—AUBURN — The city has hired a downtown coordinator to drive event planning and build on what officials see as revitalization momentum.

The position, part of the economic development department, will drive the effort to implement Auburn's downtown revitalization plan, which was unveiled in October, and take on the event-focused duties of former Recreation Director Sabrina Best, who recently left.

Jennifer Boenig was hired for the role three weeks ago, and was introduced to city officials during a City Council meeting this week. She said she came onboard just in time to experience — and help out — during the large New Year's Auburn event, which she said was "amazing."

"Jenn will focus her specific efforts on helping us to promote and create an identity for our downtown areas as the focal point for arts and entertainment," Jay Brenchick, director of economic development for the city, said. "She will accomplish this with year-round event programming downtown, built on the success of New Year's Auburn, to help make Auburn's downtown a focal point for a place to go to spend a day, an evening, or a weekend."

Boenig, who worked previously as communications director for Lewiston nonprofit Community Concepts, will be paid $61,000. She said Friday that over the next few weeks she'll be meeting with various department directors and staff "to learn more about what's already planned for 2022 and how we can continue to grow these events, making downtown Auburn the place to be."

The five-year downtown plan focuses on walkability, redeveloping Great Falls Plaza, arts and entertainment and establishing a "downtown management district" led by a coordinator.

Brenchick said this week that after the recent planning discussions, and economic development interest in the downtown growing, he wanted someone who could begin work immediately.

"If we are going to keep the pedal to the metal, so to speak, then we need someone on staff to keep us to task," he said, adding that he "didn't want to spend two years assessing. I already knew that to accomplish all these things I need help."

Mayor Jason Levesque said Friday that Auburn's work over the past two years has brought an "unprecedented number of inquires from developers" and the coordinator position is "needed to handle our future growth efficiently."

"This position reaffirms our commitment to growing retail and residential offerings in our vibrant city core," he said. "I'm excited to see what new opportunities Jennifer will bring to Auburn."

Boenig's work will coincide with an ambitious effort by city staff and the Planning Board to consider zoning updates to large swaths of Auburn's downtown and adjoining residential neighborhoods.

According to Brenchick, Boenig will coordinate annual city events such as Winterfest, Liberty Festival, Riverwalk Blues and Brews, Fright Fest, the Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting, New Year's Auburn, Community Band nights, summer movies and age-friendly events.

She'll be tasked with continuing the city's public art initiatives that are already underway, with two public installations already on view.

"These public art installations and story boards are a great start to developing arts and entertainment in our downtown areas, but more work needs to be done," Brenchick said. "Through Jenn's efforts, you will start to see greater involvement in our downtowns from a wide variety of art, entertainment, and cultural groups."

Boenig will also look into the Main Street Maine program, a model for downtown revitalization created by the National Main Street Center. Main Street Maine has proven effective in several other Maine communities, with Augusta, Bath, Biddeford, Brunswick, Saco and Westbrook also members.

Brenchick said there are "pros and cons" to joining, but said for now, Boenig will give the city a jump on more downtown-focused economic development efforts.

Boenig also has previous experience at the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce, Independent Publishing Group, and as communications specialist for the New Jersey State Senate.

She said New Auburn "holds a special place in my heart" because she lived there as a young child.

"I'm so excited to come home and be directly involved in the downtown revitalization work," she said.

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