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Air Base to Stay in Federal Hands for 1 Year

The federal government this week announced 250 jobs coming to the Horsham Air Guard Station, but progress at nearby Willow Grove air base is expected to be much slower.

In the projected time it takes to establish and man a drone command center at the Horsham Air Guard Station, the status of the abutting former Willow Grove air base will be virtually the same.

The 862-acre former military base will still be vacant, still be federally owned and its buildings will still be standing, albeit in disrepair, an official told Patch.

It will be next March "or thereabouts" before Horsham officials are able to negotiate the transfer of land from the federal government to the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority, according to HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee. 

McGee said the , is fact finding and gathering information pertaining to the real estate market in the Delaware Valley.

From there, Matrix representatives will tour and evaluate the base's existing buildings to determine if any can be reused. "We don’t think there are any" that are salvageable, McGee said.  

By November or December, McGee said Matrix would finish and submit an application for land acquisition. Within 60 to 90 days of the submission, the federal government is expected to respond, he said.

"There’s always feedback and more questions," McGee said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to respond really quickly to them."

McGee and the HLRA board–the entity tasked with overseeing the implementation of the air base's redevelopment plan–have said that they hope to serve as "master developer" for the project, which could take 20 to 25 years to completely build out. 

"We hope to successfully negotiate an economic development conveyance for the entire parcel," McGee said. "We hope to be able to take possession of all 862 acres and then give to the appropriate entities."

McGee said the goal is to have the HLRA acquire the land as a fee simple transfer. That way, McGee said Horsham would not be left with a "doughnut hole" if, for some reason, parties chose not to move forward with the proposed use. 

If a planned development fell through in a land transfer where property went from the federal government to entities, McGee said the Navy would just sell the property in question, which could contradict what the HLRA had planned for the land.

This week, the federal government announced that the adjacent Horsham Air Guard Station, which is situated on 238-acres of contiguous land, would be home to a drone command center–and 250 new jobs–come Oct. 1.

Under the , a 133-acre office park is expected to create more than 7,000 jobs and a $457 million annual payroll.

Other proposed developments include roads through the former base, 1,416 mixed-use residences, a 13-acre aviation museum, a 40-acre middle school, a robust town center and regional recreational area, 70 townhomes for the homeless and 128 additional acres of park space.

Land earmarked to nonprofit organizations, including Hatboro-Horsham School District, Horsham Township and the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association would be transferred as a public benefit conveyance, McGee said. 

"We can't charge anything," McGee said of groups eligible for public benefit conveyances. "They’ll get the land for free."

For-profit entities, including homebuilders, for instance, would pay for the land. Just how much is still being determined, McGee said. The business plan, which Matrix representatives are undertaking now, will help guide that path, he said. 

"How the heck are we going to pull this thing off?" McGee asked. "Are we going to put in all the roads, water and sewer and sell the parcel?"

Officials said previously that the cost of infrastructure would cost $145 million, including $10 million for roads, $15 million to raze buildings, $17 million to demolish the runway and $60 million for water and sewer lines.

McGee said previously that the cost of necessary improvements is deducted from the land value paid to the government upon property acquisition. He also said he views the land value as a "negative number."

It will be a year or more until local officials hear if the federal government agrees with that assessment.

Mike Shortall Sr March 22, 2013 at 02:25 AM
As one who works in the federal government, I'll be SHOCKED if the Navy finishes its Impact Study and disposal processes in just another year!
zepgod69 March 22, 2013 at 06:44 PM
Couldn't agree more...thinking 2-3yrs. It sounds like one big mess..
BrianT March 22, 2013 at 07:43 PM
I also agree this will take a long time. We in Horsham better not have to pay almost half a Billion dollars of infrastructure costs. If the the value of the land is a negative number,will developers get it for almost nothing?
Dot March 22, 2013 at 07:59 PM
As a retired Navy Nurse, I agree, Mike!
Dot March 22, 2013 at 08:08 PM
An example of how things can go awry: The DOD/Navy has been trying to complete final disposition of the Naval Hospital in Newport, RI, since it closed in the early 1990s. When I was Deputy Commander at the new Naval Ambulatory Care Center there from 1998 t0 2001, they still had people and organizations looking at the structure. At one point, Representative Patrick Kennedy showed up with a group & summarily announced that the Navy was giving it to the City of Newport - not. It is still vacant.
Mike Shortall Sr March 22, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Wonder how they were doing it in Newport. Did they have a LRA, like Horsham's. Or was the Navy stuck trying to dispose of the land itself? Problem is - like all development projects of this size - you need a deep pockets developer to come in and make the investments. If the property's not valued, you may never dispose of it.
BrianT March 23, 2013 at 12:32 AM
Wow! What would we do if we can't dispose of the land? The roads will most likely have to be in place for access.Who will pay for the runway demo and roads just to get interest in the parcels? I looked at some notes from a meeting with RKG from 16,November 2011.Using the Preferred Plan. Roads and sidewalks 150.9 acres Water and sewer 94,000 linear feet 85 acres of 10"thick concrete removed 75 acres of asphalt removed (some reused) cost between 5 and 23 million 2 new traffic signals on RT.611 1.5 million Then the kicker,most base redevelopments the developer will pay half and the local (i guess Township pays the other half). I hope we find a developer with deep pockets,otherwise this land will be more burden than a gift.
Mike Shortall Sr March 23, 2013 at 02:49 AM
Well, the good thing is, if it can't be developed, there would be no need to remove the runway or worry about sewage and water infrastructure, etc. I don't think that would happen, because eventually that land will become sought after as more and more land is developed in the area. Pretty sure the Township will require any developer to pay the bulk of any infrastructure costs.

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