MECHANIC FALLS – Dana Lee looks around town these days and sees things that weren’t there 16 years ago. Once empty stores have been rented and businesses there are thriving. Once battered roads with aging pipes underneath have been rebuilt. Since 1990, when Lee took over as town manager, Mechanic Falls has been revitalized.
Things are good for people living and working in town. That’s part of the reason Lee has decided to step down.
“I’m tickled with the work I’ve done here. I’ve looked after the town like it was my own child, and so leaving is bittersweet,” he said Friday. “We have a great staff here. The counselors are cooperative and helpful. It’s a good time for someone else to step in.”
Lee will still serve as town manager until June 30. His successor has not been named. Whomever takes over leadership of the town, will have to contend with the legacy Lee left behind.
The closing of the Marcal Paper Mill in the 1980s left the town’s economy reeling. Mechanic Falls was depressed and in areas crumbling by the time Lee took over. These days, every storefront in the town has been rented and space in the recently purchased mill is going fast.
“All of the downtown has filled in again,” Lee said.
When he began his work in 1990, he and his staff spent a lot of time applying for grants. The tenacity paid off. More than $2 million in government money has been used for various upgrades in Mechanic Falls, including the new water pipes that run beneath once treacherous routes 121 and 124.
Asked if there was unpleasantness on the job that helped him decide to leave the position, Lee is quick to answer.
“I have wonderful memories of this town,” he said. “It’s just time for a change.”
What that change may entail is not entirely clear. Lee recently completed real estate certification and plans to work in that field. At the same time, he will be available as a consultant while working for Keller Williams Realty in Auburn.
“That’s where people can find me if they miss me,” Lee quipped.
He expects that his knowledge of town ordinances and land regulations, experience gleaned from the town manager’s perspective, will help him in the real estate business.
Still, Lee is not exactly running from his office. He will serve as town manager for another two months. He does not expect to slack off during that time.
“I’ll still be committing every moment of every day to the town,” he said.