SEE RESIDENTIAL HOUSING AVAILABLE NOW
Group outlines basic scenario for future of historic Fort Monroe
By Kate Wiltrout
Slowly but surely, the future of this historic Army fort is taking shape.
It's just a sketch, no ink or color yet. But after more than two years of debate about what happens when the Army leaves the fort in 2011, the group tasked with answering that question has started developing a "draft re-use plan."
The 18-member Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority voted to proceed with a basic scenario Friday that would break the fort into a number of different zones, each of which would have its own rules for preservation and development. The plan postpones decisions on how to use 57 acres on the north end of the 570-acre fort.
That area is home to Wherry Housing - post-World War II construction that isn't considered historically significant. The rest is mostly open land. Some want to keep it that way; others envision housing or commercial space to generate income.
The meeting was the first for Bill Armbruster, the authority's new executive director, who will handle the day-to-day business.
Armbruster served six years as the Army's deputy assistant secretary for privatization and partnerships, and previously worked as executive director of the Fort Pickett Redevelopment Authority.
Closing a military installation involves a host of overlapping state and federal offices - the Pentagon, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Army Corps of Engineers, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Virginia Department of Natural Resources, to name just a few of the 30 - each of which has a role in the outcome.
Fort Monroe isn't an ordinary Army installation. Its undeniably historic assets include being the only moated stone fort in the United States, which for a time held captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The fort also served as a haven for escaped slaves during the Civil War, for which it earned the name "Freedom's Fortress."
But its location is also a major selling point. It has sweeping views of the Chesapeake Bay, acres of waterfront property and undeveloped land, and a marina - all of which make it attractive to developers.
At the request of U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, R-2nd District, the National Park Study is analyzing the fort's potential suitability as a national park property. That analysis is expected to be finished this spring.
Devoted fans of the fort want to protect the peninsula from almost any development, but city and state officials are wary of ruling that out for one big reason: the $15 million a year the Army spends keeping up buildings, plumbing and infrastructure.
The board heard Friday from an economic-analysis firm that worked on the transfer of San Francisco's Presidio from Army to public use.
Citizens who oppose development on Fort Monroe cite the Presidio as a model. That California property, which the Army left in 1994, is a now hybrid property jointly operated by the National Park Service and the Presidio Trust, a public-private agency. The historic San Francisco area site leases office space and homes. It is supposed to become economically self-sufficient by 2013.
Anita Morrison told the board that her firm, Bay Area Economics, has worked on projects dealing with reuse of 25 different military properties, including the Presidio.
Morrison said the group might want to consider leasing existing fort housing to generate money even before it develops a comprehensive plan. Wherry Housing might be good for that, Morrison said, even if it is later decided to raze the complex.
"We know we need to find some short-term income," Morrison said. "And one of the things we found on other bases is there's often revenue from leasing buildings that might need paint and patch, but could give you a stream of income that could help you in future years."
The board also heard from William Owens of Economic Research Associates, which will study various tourism scenarios and estimate economic impact. Owens told the members that the National Park Service "brand" is a powerful one. Board members asked him to elaborate.
Focus groups have shown, Owens said, that "the National Park Service brand conveys there's a higher level of quality in attractions, it conveys the fact there's more to do... and it conveys that it's a safe place. You can go to a national park and not have to worry about your own safety."