Convert military bases to housing for homeless people?

Tom Boland (
Sat, 6 Feb 1999 22:52:50 -0800 (PST)

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Should closed military bases be converted to housing for homeless people?
Your opinion?

"[A]t Lowry Air Force Base...the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless now
operates 170 housing units." -- from article below on "economic conversion"
of military bases from defense to civilian uses.

FWD  AP Headlines - Tuesday January 12, 1999


     By  Leslie Miller - Associated Press Writer

AYER, Mass. (AP) - Hundreds of identical ranch houses, lined up like
soldiers at attention, stand eerily vacant along a road at Fort Devens
where tanks and transport trucks once rolled with troops.

It's a reminder of the past, when the Cold War fueled enormous defense
spending and vast military bases sprawled across the country like this one
35 miles outside Boston.

There is a hint of the future just down the road: Trendy sport utility
vehicles ferry businessmen to jobs at a software company housed in the old
base's intelligence headquarters.

Now simply named Devens, the former U.S. Army facility - like others closed
nationwide since 1988 - is under civilian ownership. The transition was
painful at times, but things are looking up.

The old army fort, which once employed 7,000 people, boasts 39 businesses
and 1,300 private-sector jobs.

``Things were real bad for a year,'' said Corey Austin, who works at the
Exxon service station in nearby Ayer. ``Now, they've taken up the entire
work force.''

According to a Defense Department Web site, 20 of the 97 bases slated for
closure across the country have successfully been converted to civilian
use. The government estimated last April that some 45,000 new jobs have
been created in the abandoned hulks.

What used to be Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence, Ind., is now a state
park. Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Mich., has produced 1,000 new
jobs and is planning to create a retirement and vacation community.

Less than two years after it closed, Mather Air Force Base in Sacramento,
Calif., became a civilian airport and the region's air cargo hub. And
Packard Bell NEC moved into the former Sacramento Army Depot, where 5,000
people now manufacture computers.

``Success has been good, except the redevelopment process has usually taken
longer than anticipated,'' said James Noone, partner in the
Washington-based Karalekas & Noone, a law firm specializing in communities
trying to redevelop bases.

While a number of former bases have become civilian airports, others found
creative ways to use space.

In 1996, up to 120,000 rock fans pitched multicolored tents on the runway
at the former Plattsburg Air Force Base in New York to watch the band Phish.

Over the last two years, huge Phish concerts at the former Loring Air Force
Base in Limestone, Maine, have pumped millions of dollars into the local

Converting old bases is often slowed by the expensive and frustrating
process of cleaning up after the military - which leaves behind unexploded
shells, asbestos and plain old trash.

In fact, cleanup and other transition costs ate up much of the savings
originally made from the several rounds of base closures since the 1980s.
The Defense Department now estimates closures saved $3.7 billion in fiscal
1999 and will save $14 billion through 2001.

``One of the challenges of the older facilities is that the redevelopment
costs are huge,'' said Michael Hogan, head of MassDevelopment, the agency
redeveloping Devens.

Fearing economic devastation, base communities strongly opposed plans to
begin downsizing in 1988, when the first closures were announced. Congress
has balked at ordering more bases shut down.

Pease Air Force Base on New Hampshire's seacoast was one of the first bases
to close its gates, during a deep regional recession in the early 1990s. It
has since been transformed as a thriving industrial park where Pan Am
recently took up residence, joining 80 other businesses and a wildlife

Tom Morgan, town planner in nearby Newington, attributes the old base's
success to a strong local economy. ``The rising tide makes all the boats
float,'' he said. ``Even Pease floated.''

A rising tide in Denver also lifted the fortunes of both the rich and the
poor at Lowry Air Force Base. There, the Colorado Coalition for the
Homeless now operates 170 housing units on the old base, right next to
$400,000 houses being constructed.

Rather than creating an economic blight, the shutdown of Lowry may have
actually turned out to have been a boon to Denver, giving the city more
room to expand with roads, schools and senior housing.

``It's actually pretty amazing, the amount of activity,'' said John
Parvensky, the coalition's director.


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