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Is tourist destination the future of Fort Monroe?
Consultants say the post could turn a profit four years after the Army departs in September 2011
By KIMBALL PAYNE and MATTHEW STURDEVANT | 247-4765 | 247-7874
HAMPTON - A team of consultants on Fort Monroe on Wednesday explained how the post could become a functioning tourist destination once the Army leaves in September 2011.
The reuse plan doesn't offer specific suggestions, such as converting an officer's quarters into a Talbots.
It does, however, provide aggregate estimates for revenue and costs based on leasing the existing buildings for a combination of residential, retail, office and tourist uses.
A three-hour afternoon session of the 18-member panel guiding the transition away from a military post drilled down into the details of the overarching plans for the 570-acre base, while an evening meeting was designed to gather feedback. Local residents and advocates came together to hear and discuss the emerging blueprint for Monroe that has taken years to develop.
The report on the potential and hurdles of Fort Monroe is so voluminous that local watchdogs anxiously eyeing the future of the post might need some extra time to react.
"This information is giant steps forward in our ability to understand the facts," said Louis Guy, treasurer of the grass-roots Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park. "We will be digesting for weeks."
Fort Monroe has been eyed as prime real estate since the Pentagon announced in 2005 that it would be closed as part of a military realignment. The base is centrally located on the Chesapeake Bay, a short distance from Interstate 64 and the link between the Peninsula and South Hampton Roads.
The post's future is in the hands of the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, which has hired consultants to figure out a way to balance preserving the historic nature of the post while keeping it vital and raising enough money for upkeep.
On Wednesday, officials from the authority assured national park enthusiasts that their concepts would be an important part of the discussion going forward, while locals lobbying for a hybrid park continued to stress that they support limited development on the base as long as it's strictly controlled and monitored.
"We need to take the time and make the effort to make Monroe what it needs to be," said Bill Armbruster, executive director of the authority.
The Florida, Massachusetts and California consultants hired to draft a future for Fort Monroe estimate that it could draw 225,000 to 275,000 visitors annually. They also say annual costs for operations and maintenance at the historic military post will be less than one-third the Army's estimate of $15 million.
The consulting team estimates Fort Monroe will operate at a net loss through 2014. It will turn a profit in 2015, and could raise $167.9 million in taxes and fees from the time the Army leaves through 2031. During the same 20-year period, the consultants estimate it will cost $89.21 million for operations, maintenance and to provide city services.
It's possible Hampton will benefit from the tax revenue and be charged with providing services like schools and garbage removal.
The consultants said yearly maintenance costs for the post will likely fall between $3.9 million to $4.7 million. That doesn't include capital improvements ó such as replacing sewer pipes, installing sidewalks, replenishing eroded beaches or building new roads.
The methods used to come up with the estimates had some board members shaking their heads.
The projections are based on several assumptions:
Additionally, the lessee would pay for all maintenance and taxes.
That means if a brick building that is currently an officer's home could sell for $400,000, the authority would have to lease it for $360,000 and convince the person signing the lease to take on the responsibilities of fixing a leaky roof, mowing the lawn and paying property taxes.
"How could you arrive at that conclusion?" asked authority board member Tommy Thompson, a Hampton developer and real estate broker.
During the monthly meeting Wednesday afternoon, the authority also learned that the Army's electrical infrastructure does not adhere to Dominion Virginia Power's standards, said Eddie Marscheider of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., one of the planning and engineering consulting firms hired by the Fort Monroe authority.
"Somebody has got to pay to have it replaced," Marscheider said.
This is the latest in a number of unanticipated costs as the post transitions from a strategic defense base to some sort of local resort. The Army is also expected to foot the bill for environmental cleanup, which means digging up countless unexploded bullets and artillery shells in the sand dating back to the 1800s.
While the reuse plan is a suggestion of what the authority could do with Fort Monroe, another document will detail what the authority is allowed to do. The Army and the authority are working on an agreement to transfer the land, provided the authority agrees to take care of the historic properties.
The public will have an opportunity to comment on the agreement and the reuse plan before each is finalized in August.