Land, money on ta­ble for Fort Mon­roe board retreat

Army to trans­fer 74 prop­erty acres

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY DAVE RESS

HAMP­TON, VA. | At some point in the next few days — the tim­ing de­pends on some real es­tate lawyers — the Fort Mon­roe Author­ity is go­ing to be ad­ding to its mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar headache of main­tain­ing empty build­ings and com­mon ar­eas as well as pay­ing for all wa­ter, sewer and gas utilities at the his­toric Army base.

The long-awaited trans­fer from the Army to the author­ity of the ma­rina and ad­ja­cent land on the western shore of the old base as well as a half-moon-shaped piece of land be­tween the fortress it­self and Mill Creek will add 31 build­ings and nearly 74 acres to the prop­erty the author­ity must main­tain. Most of the build­ings re­quire ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tion if they are to be used again, and many are his­toric build­ings the author­ity can­not tear down.

Lay­ing out a strat­egy for that fi­nan­cial chal­lenge is what the Fort Mon­roe Author­ity board of trustees has on its plate when it gath­ers for a day-and-ahalf-long retreat start­ing Wed­nes­day.

“We’ll be com­ing up with a game plan,” said author­ity Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Glenn Oder.

Brief­ing pa­pers the author­ity’s staff has pre­pared for the board ar­gue for bring­ing in pri­vate sec­tor in­vestors to re­de­velop parts of the author­ity’s land and sug­gest new ways of defin­ing the sta­tus of the last two big parcels — the ma­rina and the half-moon-shaped North Gate tract — that the Army is trans­fer­ring to the state.

The rea­son: Few ten­ants want to put big money into prop­erty rented year to year, and banks won’t lend money to ten­ants for ma­jor ren­o­va­tion work on the ba­sis of a short-term lease, said John Hutch­e­son, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and di­rec­tor of real es­tate op­er­a­tions.

One model for an alternative sta­tus for land on the newly ac­quired parcels is a ground lease — a long-term, usu­ally 50-year, com­mit­ment that a ten­ant can stay on a piece of prop­erty. That ap­proach is what cleared the way for in­vestors to put $55 mil­lion into ren­o­vat­ing what was a derelict Cham­ber­lin Ho­tel a decade ago.

An­other alternative could be to sell parts of the two new parcels, Mr. Hutch­e­son said. That would prob­a­bly be re­quired for any sin­gle-fam­ily home devel­op­ment and may be what would be needed to bring ma­jor im­prove­ments to the ma­rina.

Com­mer­cial re­use is less likely, in part be­cause many of the empty build­ings at the fort can’t be eas­ily re­fit­ted to meet Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act stan­dards and in part be­cause of the type and scale of in­vest­ment needed to qual­ify for his­toric preser­va­tion tax cred­its, a key driver of most ren­o­va­tion of his­toric build­ings, Mr. Hutch­e­son said.

Any­way, he said: “What the mar­ket is telling us is that there’s de­mand for res­i­den­tial here. We’re 90 per­cent leased … what peo­ple want to do on Fort Mon­roe is live here.”

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