Daily Press

A 19th-century Army post with fantastic views of the bay, hundreds of buildings in various states of repair and National Historic Landmark status was put on the Pentagon's base closing list.In 1989.

Yet another went on the list Friday.

The earlier date involved The Presidio, an Army post near the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. It was established by Spain in 1776, officially became a U.S. Army post in 1850 and was one of the oldest active bases in the country when it closed in 1996.

Fort Monroe hit the Pentagon's closing list Friday. The fort, composed of hand-cut stones with a moat, once defended the Chesapeake Bay from intruders. It opened in 1823 and now has 3,500 military and civilian jobs that would be moved elsewhere, unless local politicians are able to persuade the Base Realignment and Closure Commission otherwise. Local historians say it's the third-oldest Army post in operation.

The Presidio was empty in 1996. Today, 2,400 people live there, and 2,000 people work at 150 businesses on the site, managed by The Presidio Trust, a nonprofit creation of Congress. It began work in 1998 and also handles hundreds of acres of scenic parkland and bayside overlooks.

It generates $40 million a year in revenue to ensure preservation of the more than 469 buildings and 300 other features designated "historic."

The trust's work at The Presidio might provide a model -- or at least a guide -- for how Hampton can balance the interests of history and economics at Fort Monroe.

Politicians and government officials from Washington to Hampton don't want to talk about what might happen if the post closes, though they say they're confident that they can wring some positives out of the situation. For now, they're focused on saving the base, they say.

If the worst comes, "then we'll take a look at those alternatives," says Tom Gordy, chief of staff for Rep. Thelma Drake, R-Norfolk. Monroe sits in Drake's sprawling district.

Still, Gordy's seen the job that The Presidio Trust has done working with the old post in San Francisco, and he's impressed: "What a beautiful place that is."

Ron Sonenshine, spokesman for The Presidio Trust, says the organization is proud of its success so far.

"I think we're all really optimistic," he says. "We're not popping champagne corks, though."

Some fairly unusual circumstances have helped The Presidio get to this point, he says. "I don't know if it would work in many other communities."

Tim Ford of the National Association of Installation Developers -- a trade association for businesses that help turn old bases into viable, tax-generating real estate -- agrees.

"It's in San Francisco, right next to the Golden Gate Bridge," he says. "So some of the economics might not be available in other places."

Because of the location, "they were able to do some very select development," he says.

One example is the nearly finished filmmaking campus of George Lucas of "Star Wars" fame, a $350 million effort that pays the trust $6 million a year in rent, Sonenshine says. But many of the others are schools, small businesses and offices.

The Presidio also had a minimal environmental problem compared with most military bases -- and no significant level of buried ordnance.

Fort Monroe, on the other hand, is plagued with 1,300 underground sites where weapons are thought to be buried.

Creation of The Presidio Trust itself wasn't easy, either, Sonenshine says. Republicans intent on keeping the place from sucking up tax dollars indefinitely have to work with Democrats who emphasize the requirement to preserve the site's historic and natural beauty. In addition to proximity to the famous bridge, there's a 400-acre forest and park planted in the 1880s that's protected.

Not everyone is happy about what's happened. Local residents frequently complain about the overcommercialization of the park. One local neighborhood association opposes further commercial use, no matter how tasteful or well-hidden.

It took several years of congressional wrangling to create the trust and annual dogfights to secure the $20 million to $28 million a year that it receives from Congress to complete the task, Sonenshine says. By law, the subsidies stop in 2013.

It doesn't hurt that California's congressional delegation is large and influential and that presidential candidates desire the state's huge share of the Electoral College.

While the trust could manage without federal tax subsidies today, Sonenshine says, "there would be things that would not get done." There are still hundreds of buildings in need of repair.

"Historic buildings are very expensive to renovate," he says. "We really can't keep them empty. They'll fall down if they're not used."

The whole project would fall apart if the trust were subject to local real estate and business taxes, he says.

The starting point for The Presidio Trust was turning housing into cash flow, Sonenshine says, so it was lucky that there was base housing that people wanted to live in.

Fort Monroe has that. About 100 residences recently got a $25 million face-lift, making them worth $300,000 to $2.5 million apiece if put in the civilian housing market, says Dan Hassett, regional vice president for Virtexco Inc., the company that did the work.

The base also finished an $11 million upgrade to create a state-of-the-art fitness center in 2003. It boasts a marina and miles of beautiful beach and sits on one of the prettiest sites in Hampton Roads, real estate and political leaders say.

But it also costs about $14 million just to maintain the historic structures so they're not lost, federal authorities say, and hundreds of buildings need repair or demolition.

All that sounds familiar to Sonenshine, who says that if Hampton wants to emulate The Presidio, it better start working with Congress.

"That's who we have to answer to," he says. *


The Presidio; San Francisco


* Established by Spanish colonists in 1776 ("presidio" means "walled fort" in Spanish)

* Was a U.S. Army base, 1850 to 1996

* Became a National Historic Landmark district, 1962


* 1,491 acres; 500 of them wooded

* 768 structures, 469 of which are historic

* 280 native plant species, including 16 listed as "rare" or "endangered"

* Contains a 300-acre historic planted forest dating to the 1880s

* Showcases architectural styles from every major military construction period since 1848, along with Mission Revival style

* 28.5 miles of hiking, biking and nature trails

* Has a golf course, bowling alley, campground, picnic sites, tennis courts, ball fields, and indoor swimming and gymnastics sites

* Overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay


* Managed by The Presidio Trust, a nonprofit organization created by Congress in 1996 to manage the site in conjunction with the National Park Service (the Park Service handles only beachfront land)

* Now home to 2,400 people in 1,000 households

* 150 businesses are on the site -- a mix of private, for-profit and nonprofit, including several private schools, shops, offices and a physical therapy clinic -- employing 2,000 people.

Source: The Presidio Trust *

Fort Monroe; Hampton


* Established as a fort by English settlers in the early 1600s

* The hand-cut stone fort was built from 1819 to 1834 and is the last remaining stone fort with a moat.

* Location of Hygeia Hotel, the first Virginia-based tourist attraction, 1820

* In the early days of the Civil War, Gen. Benjamin Butler

by declaring runaway slaves there "war contraband" -- began the emancipation process. The fort was also used as staging area for important Union Army campaigns in the war and as a prison for Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, after his capture.

* Became headquarters of Army Training and Doctrine Command in 1973

* Named a National Historic Landmark in 1961


* 570 acres, including several miles of beachfront

* 314 buildings, most with historic status

* 183 residences -- 111 for officers, 72 for enlisted personnel

* Marina, fitness center, gazebo, bandshell, campus of TRADOC

* Recently renovated $11 million fitness center


* 3,564 military, civilian Department of Defense and defense contractor employees

* $45 million a year

Sources:; Government Accountability Office; 2005 BRAC report; Michael Cobb, curator, Hampton History Museum; John Quarstein, director of museums, city of Newport News *

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