SEE RESIDENTIAL HOUSING AVAILABLE NOW
12 months and counting until Fort Monroe in Hampton becomes public
A new era begins one year from today
By David Macaulay, email@example.com | 247-7838
HAMPTON -- Bill Armbruster admits that the date Sept. 15 is on his mind. "The clock is ticking. This is the one date that doesn't change for us," he said.
Aerials of Ft. Monroe courtesy Fort Monroe Authority.
Armbruster is the executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority. On Sep. 15, 2011, the historic site will cease to be an Army post and will become a small enclave of the commonwealth of Virginia within Hampton.
In just 12 months Armbruster and the newly set up Fort Monroe Authority will have to overcome numerous challenges to help ensure Fort Monroe doesn't end up a ghost town like so many other bases vacated by the military under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
"There are plenty of examples out there of base closures that continue to be a problem after the transfer. The traditional BRAC mold is to close the doors, turn out the lights, lock everything up and hand the keys over to the local reuse authority. You have a hell of a challenge," Armbruster said.
Armbruster hopes Fort Monroe will buck the trend because of the historic and picturesque nature of the site. The Fort Monroe Authority is working on the model of the Presidio, a historic former military site in San Francisco.
"We are on schedule and in some ways we are ahead of schedule," he said in an interview last week.
He hopes the transition will be made as seamless as possible, making it the exception to the rule of BRAC closures.
"The Army is working with us on this," he said.
To ensure Fort Monroe doesn't empty out next September, Armbruster said the authority is working to keep residential units occupied. Many of the service personnel will be moving to Fort Eustis in Newport News, meaning they can still live at Fort Monroe.
"The key for us is to keep a sense of community and to keep a vibrant community. That's what we're doing with the residences out here," Armbruster said.
The Fort Monroe Authority has already taken over management of the Wherry quarter, comprising 118 housing units.
"We are now working with the Army on Army family housing. We are working with the Army to take on that responsibility so as by next fall, all those units continue to be occupied," Armbruster said. "We have given priority to military families and we will continue to honor their leases."
He hopes just under 300 family housing units will remain occupied. While Monroe will lose 3,500 Army jobs, Armbruster hopes about 500 of these personnel will remain at Monroe.
But the Army is drawing up a mothballing program for some commercial buildings. "We know we're going to have empty office buildings," he said.
Fort Monroe has 900,000 square feet of residential property and 1.1 million square feet of commercial property.
But Armbruster is hopeful some of the amenities such as fitness facilities, the Bay Breeze Community Center and the marina will remain open.
One of the most pressing challenges is the cost of new infrastructure as Fort Monroe makes the transition from an Army post to a public place. A recent consultants' report put the price tag at $70 million to $80 million.
Armbruster said only part of a flood control system identified by the Army Corps of Engineers in the wake of Hurricane Isabel in 2003, has been completed at Fort Monroe. Three projects that the corps indicated needed to be addressed -- flood control, water and waste water -- have been taken up by the Congressional delegation.
The federal government has been asked to meet flood and water related costs of about $20 million.
The consultants identified one of the largest required upgrades as improvements to the electrical system at a cost of $7 million to $10 million. That would allow it to convert to a "regulated system" with meters on individual buildings.
However, the bill for improvements will be phased over a number of years.
Little can be done until the Army vacates and the secret nature of some infrastructure means the authority's consultants have not yet been able to see it.
"We really can't do anything until we own it," said John Hutcheson, the Fort Monroe Authority's Director of Operations.
"Keep in mind that it works now, so the day after the Army leaves, it will still work," he said.
Armbruster said the city of Hampton has demonstrated understandable concern at taking on additional services at "a great additional expense."
"But we expect these folks who live out here will be residents of the city of Hampton and they are entitled to the services that anyone else in the city should expect which basically are the fire and police, emergency services," he said.
Armbruster said talks are ongoing regarding the authority possibly paying to provide emergency services after the handover. The equation is made more complex by the fact the city will lose an impact fee that is currently paid by the Army to educate children in public schools.
"Normally a city resident would pay real estate taxes and those real estate taxes fund all those governmental services," said Hutcheson.
"We don't have the authority to assess real estate taxes, nor does the city of Hampton, to assess traditional real estate taxes on state-owned property," Hutcheson said. "In the city's mind there's a funding gap between the services they are obligated to provide and the income they can see coming from the residents of Fort Monroe."
Hampton officials say the Fort Monroe Authority Act does not say it is responsible for providing services, although it states Fort Monroe residents should have the right to vote and to receive public education, police, fire and emergency services.
"It doesn't say the city of the Hampton is the party that has to provide those services," said Mayor Molly Joseph Ward. "We absolutely believe we will have a great partnership with the FMA and that we'll be able to work out a taxing structure to reimburse the city for the cost of providing those services," she said.
The Fort Monroe Authority has been dependent on funding from the state and the Department of Defense to date and will be dependent on these sources until Fort Monroe can pay for itself.
"Even in this market we project out to 2017, with a decreasing deficit from 2011 to 2017," Armbruster said. He can't yet estimate the likely deficit. The 2010-11 budget was just over $4 million. The 2011-12 budget is expected to be considerably higher.
At the same time as it crunches the numbers, the Fort Monroe Authority will be working on heritage and recreation plans to bring more visitors to the historic site along with seeking to bring a unit of the National Park Service to Fort Monroe. Armbruster hopes a proposal for a unit of the park service will be submitted to the fall session of Congress.
Coming tomorrow: An interview with base commander Col. Anthony Reyes.
The Fort Monroe Authority came into existence on July 1. It is chaired by Terrie Suit. Its 11-member board of trustees comprises two members of the governor's cabinet, two state legislators, five citizens appointed by the governor and two appointees from the city of Hampton.