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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Commercial Edition   |   December 2005

When One Door Closes

As military bases across the country prepare to close, brokers who get involved in redevelopment planning could create new opportunities

When One Door Closes

After months of public hearings, study and research (not to mention nonstop lobbying), the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) list is now a matter of law. Land developers and homebuilders across the United States are eyeing the bases picked for decommissioning as potential development opportunities.

Nationwide, more than 160 facilities of varying shapes and sizes have been selected for closure and realignment. These bases not only can offer unique development potential for communities; they can also provide opportunities for mortgage brokers and other financial firms to jump into the process early. But these individuals must first understand the intricacies and special nature of base redevelopment.

The basics

Most bases need substantial reconfiguration to become suitable for private development. Before being decommissioned, bases must first be “normalized.” The challenges are evident: environmental contamination, inadequate infrastructure, buildings that aren’t up to code and, occasionally, unexploded weaponry that must be dealt with.

In previous BRAC rounds, cities or counties could acquire base land for free or at minimal cost through conveyances authorized by BRAC to facilitate job creation and economic recovery. These conveyance tools will likely be available during the next BRAC round of closures, although they will be altered slightly.

Local government agencies must establish a Local Redevelopment Authority (LRA) to initiate and guide the reuse process. To further assist communities, Congress enacted the Base Closure Community Assistance Act of 1993 (BCCAA). The BCCAA supports economic growth by maintaining civilian job-generation, expediting environmental cleanup, providing larger economic-planning grants and helping workers transition to nonmilitary jobs.

Mortgage brokers and firms that participate in such redevelopment activities could position themselves well by establishing a reputation for being knowledgeable, helpful and involved.

10 principles for base redevelopment

Developers who acquire bases for reuse will likely have to make many concessions to local government entities and to the community — building new utility systems, roads, parks, schools and public-service facilities. They must also collaborate with state, county and local governments — usually through the individual LRAs — and their constituents and stakeholders to create acceptable land-use and development plans. Consequently, being a seasoned negotiator is an important attribute in this arena.

The BRAC process — from the base closure to the planning and development stage — is a complex enterprise that happens over a long period of time. Those looking to swoop in and effect a quick transformation will find themselves stymied. This is especially true if the surrounding community is inexperienced with large-scale redevelopment and is wary of its effects.

The 10 key principles for developing and securing approval for successful base reuse are:

  1. Join the military. Early partnering with the military can lead to a smoother transition. Learn about the types of facilities and activities at the BRAC-targeted installation, as well as about how the military plans to dispose of the property. Each military branch has a different process.

  2. Think big. Determining the best new use for a closed base is critical. The opportunity to redevelop a military base may be a rare chance for a community to do something that significant. Creating an exciting vision for future uses can help a community overcome the anxiety of base closure. Be sure to propose planning and development solutions that are right for the community.

  3. Partner for success. Cooperation between public and private interests is essential. This is a potentially fruitful area for brokers. The closure of a military installation can be a scary experience for a community, but it also can represent an outstanding opportunity for growth and revitalization. Listen to surrounding citizens and neighbors about their hopes and dreams. Citizen support can help ensure the successful implementation of a reuse plan. Developers and communities would be well-advised to create Web sites to disseminate planning ideas and gather stakeholder input.

  4. Know the market. This is probably the most critical aspect of planning. Mortgage brokers, with their insight into the ebb and flow of local real estate markets, can contribute to this knowledge base. The vision for the property must be supported by market realities. The type of residential development that is appropriate and marketable will vary geographically. A community may need to add incentives such as a hospital complex or a community college to enhance the potential for market-driven uses.

  5. Know the politics. Understanding local politics is as important as understanding the local community. Because the redevelopment plan will most likely be shaped by the LRA, get to know the stakeholders and their intentions for the property. Work with local elected officials to make sure they share the vision. Their support will be needed to implement the plan through zoning, infrastructure-funding and potential development incentives.

  6. Understand potential hurdles. These can be significant, but they also can be overstated. Among the most common are environmental contamination and unexploded ordnance. Other considerations are historic buildings and sensitive species’ habitats. In addition, federal agencies, as well as homeless and workforce-housing advocates, may have an interest in and legal rights to use the property for their specific purposes. Retain a knowledgeable attorney who is familiar with the BRAC process. Also, knowing the legal issues unique to the 2005 BRAC is critical.

  7. Knit the installation back into the community. Because of security concerns, most military installations are fenced in and only accessible to the larger community through gates. Reintegrate the property back into the community. Look for opportunities to connect roads and other infrastructure. Many utility systems, even if they can be retained, will also need to be reintegrated into the larger community systems.

  8. Create a new image. As early as possible, take the base’s fences down. Open the base golf course to the public. Create a welcome center. Let the local college use a building or two for a satellite campus. Open recreational facilities. All these gestures are important to convey the message that something is happening. Coming up with a new, perhaps friendlier, name for base is also a good idea. Creating an early sense of momentum can lead to later successes. Finding uses, even temporary ones, for major visible facilities will help attract subsequent users, tenants and developers.

  9. Take it one step at a time. The process requires multiple simultaneous deals and land-transfer negotiations. It will not happen overnight. The plan for development should build on early successes. As the years go by, the community and the developers should embrace the vision created early in the process. Staying consistent with that vision ensures that community support will remain strong and on course.

  10. Be flexible. No plan can possibly predict all the ideas, trends and outside forces that will arise as the installation is redeveloped. Plans will change as markets and local conditions change, and new markets of opportunity may emerge over time. Because the plan may need to be revised occasionally, you must be flexible enough to respond to changing factors and forces. Implementation tools such as zoning and other land-use controls must also be flexible to respond to changes.

•  •  •

Developers and brokers who are informed about BRAC and equipped to handle the task will likely find it to be rewarding. With creativity, knowledge and collaboration, developers working hand in hand with the community can facilitate an influx of new housing, businesses and other community services.

Although the planning and redevelopment of a base may appear daunting at the outset, success is attainable with sincere and enlightened cooperation between all parties involved.


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