Land, money on table for Fort Monroe board retreat
Army to transfer 74 property acres
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.”