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Air Base Infrastructure Costs Projected at $145 Million

Of that, runway demolition is expected to cost $17 million.

The Horsham Land Reuse Authority is closing in on the homestretch for approval of a redevelopment plan for 862 acres of shuttered Willow Grove air base.

On Wednesday night, the board’s consultant, RKG Associates, presented a final view of what the property could look like dotted with 1,416 mixed-use residences, a 13-acre aviation museum, a 40-acre middle school, a robust town center and regional recreational area, an estimated 70 housing units for the homeless and a 133-acre office park expected to create more than 7,000 jobs – and a $457 million annual payroll - upon build out.

The culmination of a “close to final” plan, according to HLRA Chairman William Whiteside, has led the board to its last hurdle before approving the reuse blueprint at its March 21 meeting: Public comment. For the next 30 days, the community can share their comments with the HLRA via email or by calling Horsham Township at 215-643-3131.

A handful of the several dozen in attendance Wednesday questioned why the seven-acre parcel proposed for the homeless was situated near recreational space and the area adjacent to the middle school.

HLRA Executive Director Mike McGee said it was important to “integrate” the homeless into the community and consultant Russell Archambault said the area near the main gate, off of Privet Road, is the only parcel with access to public transportation.

The question left unanswered is how the nearly $145 million in combined public and private infrastructure costs – including $10 million for roads, $15 million to raze buildings, $17 million to demolish the runway and $60 million for water and sewer lines – will be funded.

“How this all gets paid for is yet to be determined,” Archambault said.

The bigger question perhaps is if area taxpayers will be saddled with the cost of removing the runway for an airport it firmly rejected. McGee said a military base redevelopment project in Glenview, Ill. was expected to cost $23 million for runway removal, but was whittled down to $3 million because the materials were used to construct new roads.

“The taxpayers will pay – federal taxpayers,” McGee said.

Typically, McGee said the cost of necessary improvements is deducted from the land value paid to the government upon property acquisition.

“I firmly believe the value of the property is a negative number,” McGee said.

Ultimately, the purchase price for the land will be negotiated between the HLRA and the government with upgrades and environmental impacts all factored in, he said.

HLRA board member Steven Nelson said he was concerned that the cost projections were estimated too low and would be much higher.

"My fear is that this is going to go to the Navy with sort of half of the information," Nelson said. "I think this lacks some critical information."

While the board took no action Wednesday, McGee reaffirmed his hope that the HLRA’s intent to acquire the property through an economic development conveyance be included in the plan set to be approved and submitted to the federal government by March 31. The Navy will decide how the property is transferred, McGee said, noting that the government could sell the land at a public sale, meaning that Horsham could only "control" the final development outcome by virtue of its zoning.

An economic development conveyance, on the other hand, would require “some sort of upfront payment,” as well as a commitment of future revenues, but would give the community “maximum flexibility,” according to Archambault, who, along with his firm, RKG Associates, has overseen 50 military base redevelopment projects.

Described previously as a type of “layaway,” McGee said the notion of an economic development conveyance – in which the HLRA could serve as the site’s master developer – in no way encumbers future boards or local government to follow that protocol.

“Right up until the deeds are transferred,” McGee said of the two- to five-year process, “we can always back out.”

Mike Shortall Sr February 01, 2013 at 08:04 PM
Well, actually Ted, presently the airbase is generating about $600K in Impact Fees. And the discussion of tax revenues is only relevant once the airbase property would pass into Horsham control. At that point - years in the future - an airport would generate ZERO in local taxes outside of what minimal wage taxes the airport operation would generate. So it's not very risky to assume that whatever redevelopment Horsham ends up putting on the JRB grounds will generate much more in tax revenues than an airport. Hope that clears up your obtusiness.
Mike Shortall Sr February 01, 2013 at 08:11 PM
You're right, Jenn. If a suitable Sponsor for the homeless conveyance isn't found (providing financial backing primarily), then the conveyance might not be made for that purpose. I was speaking of the BRAC requirement that you go through that process of seeking a homeless conveyance.
tedtaylor February 01, 2013 at 08:24 PM
The fact that this is still bubbling along - and nothing is really happening - should be disturbing to everyone. This will drag on for years. But the most vocal are the "I don't want an airport" crowd. They tell you what they don't want and why. But are kind of light on actual plausible suggestions. It's sad, I'm sorry to see the damage it is doing to the heart of Horsham.
Linda February 01, 2013 at 08:44 PM
Agreed!! Horsham Township feeds the residents fears of a commercial airport! Should keep the runway and keep it as an airport.
Mike Shortall Sr February 01, 2013 at 09:08 PM
The reason why the redevelopment process is still "bubbling along" is because Ed Rendell set the process back 2-3 years while trying to sell his plan to turn the JRB into an Emergency Response center, and because with anything connected to federal government, speed is NEVER a priority. Fact is, it will take the Fed another 18 months to complete their Environmental Impact Study, and probably another year before the plan gets formal approval. That process would have applied regardless of whether an airport was to be kept or the current plan under consideration was pursued. No one would be using the property at this point either way, and as stated, we are years from anything happening on the plans. Horsham can't even cut the grass there until the Fed's BRAC process runs its course.

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