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By Robert Brauchle, | 757-247-2827

December 23, 2012

HAMPTON — With an afternoon available between workshops during an October conference in Phoenix, Ariz., Hampton City Manager Mary Bunting joined a bus tour of the former Williams Air Force Base in nearby Mesa.

A few weeks earlier, Fort Monroe Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder motored through the rolling hills of the former Devens Air Force Base in Massachusetts, inspecting the property’s housing stock.

The Fort Monroe Authority will enter 2013 close to having a master plan in hand, but progress toward converting the property from a military base into a civilian community will likely take years. Hoping to learn from the experiences of other regions that have been through base closures, area officials are looking to former military and historic sites to chart a path for Fort Monroe.

They face a list of challenges that includes the reuse of buildings, road and utility improvements, and making the ultimate decision of when and where new development can be built.

Oder and his staff have spoken with directors overseeing sites at Fort Vancouver in Washington, Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif., and others, and have found that while each property is unique, each also has lessons to teach.

Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., closed in the mid-1990s and was subsequently bought by surrounding Oneida County. Today it is a business and technology park.

Officials there found that maintenance and capital improvement projects have helped cut long-term costs and improve the appearance of the property. Oneida County Executive Tony Picente said they had to view and treat Griffiss as “a city within a city.”

Three miles away in Rome, N.Y., a wooden fort offers a striking backdrop for the stream of motorists visiting the nail salon, laundromat and hardware store nearby. Fort Stanwix is an urban national park, and offers a glimpse of what Fort Monroe could become if commercial development encroaches on the historic property.

In Massachusetts, officials overseeing the former Fort Devens found quick success in landing tenants to build anew on the property. But finding ways to reuse a set of historic buildings known as Vicksburg Square has been slow going.

To the north, the city of Lowell, Mass., stands as an example of how a national park and the city that surrounds it can fit together. More than 100 acres of downtown Lowell are included in Lowell National Historic Park. Where the park begins and the city ends isn’t always apparent.

Oder has said the city, state and National Park Service will need to cooperate to ensure that future visitors pass seamlessly from state- to federally-owned land, and back again.

The National Park Service is creating an outline for the 325 acres it will oversee at Fort Monroe.

A consultant hired to plan the state’s portion of Fort Monroe is expected to finalize its master plan and present it to the governor in mid-2013.

What is most important, state and federal officials say, is not getting things done quickly, but getting them done right.

Tomorrow: A New York city with a wooden fort.

About the series

Officials at Fort Monroe are looking at other regions that have been through base closings, aiming to learn from their experiences. This series looks at a few comparable sites in New England.

Sunday: Those planning the future of Fort Monroe have a lot to learn from the experiences of efforts elsewhere.

Monday: Commercial development has encroached on Fort Stanwix, a historic fort in Rome, N.Y. The view from its parapets includes a dry cleaner and a nail salon.

Wednesday: Lowell, Mass., has turned the heart of its once industrial downtown into a national park. It’s not always easy to tell where the park ends and the city begins.

Thursday: At some former military bases, it has been easy to find companies willing to build new facilities. However, making use of historic buildings presents a challenge.

Copyright © 2012, Newport News, Va., Daily Press,0,3501144.story