PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There’s a great deal of charm in the Star City, according to its new city manager, Jim Bennett, and there are also things that can be done to make it better.
Bennett, whose first day on the job in Presque Isle was March 1, said this week that he will be soliciting input from residents about what they feel is important for the future of the community, and he will be hosting an informal meet-and-greet Saturday at McDonald’s on Main Street.
During a meeting earlier this week at City Hall, Bennett talked about his first few weeks on the job and what he wants to accomplish during his tenure.
“I have already met with the department heads, most city officials and a number of community members,” he said Monday. “I wanted to do the McDonald’s event, because I did a similar type of thing when I was [city administrator] in Lewiston. This gives me a chance to not only meet people, but to hear their concerns and views about what they want to see happen in the city.”
Hired in February, Bennett said his family, including his wife and two teenage children, remain in Lewiston. They will move north this summer, once their Lewiston home is sold.
Bennett replaced 17-year veteran City Manager Tom Stevens, whose contract expired in January. City councilors said at the time they wanted the city to “move into the 21st century.”
Bennett was released from his job as Lewiston city administrator in July 2009 after councilors said they wanted to seek a new direction. He had served since March 2002.
Before accepting the job in Presque Isle, Bennett had served as interim town manager of Sabattus since September.
His first few weeks on the job have really been “a listening tour,” according to Bennett.
“I have many goals in mind while I am serving as manager, and of course, economic development is a big one,” he said. “Presque Isle really has a great deal of tourist-related activities going on. The city attracts a large number of snowmobilers, and as we have seen this week, athletes and visitors are attracted to the Maine Winter Sports Center. The agricultural industry is also still present here.”
While the city has assets, it also has needs, he conceded.
Bennett said he feels the city needs “more jobs that pay a livable wage,” especially since the downturn in the economy has led to a significant number of layoffs across Aroostook County and the state.
But there are barriers to economic development in the city, he acknowledged, primarily due to location.
“People generally don’t think about going north when they need things,” he said. “Even in Lewiston, people think about going to Portland before Augusta. We can do things to change that type of thinking. This city has a lot to offer, including shopping, hunting, fishing, golfing and snowmobiling. This is really the center of Aroostook County.”
In the past few years, the city has been doing a lot to renovate and reinvigorate downtown Presque Isle, and Bennett feels the city “has done a great job enhancing what is really a beautiful downtown area.
“I think that we want the downtown to be an experience for people,” he said. “We want it to be a place where people not only can shop and go see movies, but sit outside with friends on the benches before and after they go into restaurants.”
Bennett said he feels that rerouting heavy truck traffic around the downtown would enhance the experience.
“It kind of takes away from the experience to have trucks rolling through there all the time,” he noted.
With one City Council meeting under his belt, Bennett said he is looking forward to future meetings. He also is looking forward to meeting with residents this Saturday.
“I have ideas, but I really am still on the listening tour,” he said. “I know the citizens have a lot to offer, and I really want to hear it.”
Bennett will be available at McDonald’s on Main Street from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday.