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Brooks Air Force Base

Project name: Brooks City-Base

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Developer: Brooks Redevelopment Authority

Size: 1,308 acres

When officials in San Antonio first heard rumblings from the Pentagon in the 1990s that Brooks Air Force Base could someday be closed, they immediately began planning for life after the Air Force.

As a result, the reuse effort known as Brooks City-Base in San Antonio, Texas is likely the furthest along in the redevelopment phase among sites listed on the BRAC 2005 roster.

Over the past five years, local officials have spent time making detailed plans for the base's redevelopment. The plan is so detailed, in fact, that the Air Force took the unprecedented step of deeding the property to local reuse officials three years before Brooks showed up on the closure list.

“We were able to go in and renegotiate a lot of contracts,” says Donald Jakeway, CEO of the Brooks Development Authority. So when the Air Force officially handed over the 1,308-acre base to local officials in 2002, Jakeway recalls, the momentum was well underway. “We already were in place with a management company to help us negotiate the custodial, repair and maintenance, and landscaping contracts.”

Reliable tenant

Arguably the most remarkable example of privatization at Brooks is the Air Force's agreement to become a rent-paying tenant for the remainder of its stay at the base. The military reaps financial savings from the lease deal because property management becomes the responsibility of the Brooks Development Authority, while rent payments provide revenue to Brooks-City Base. “[It allows] us to exist, while giving us the revenue stream to provide for strategic planning,” says Cyndy Hanson, vice president of marketing for the reuse authority.

The strategic vision, according to Jakeway, is that of an “economic core of research and technology businesses, including bio-medical, life sciences and pharmaceuticals.” Currently, Brooks has nearly 2 million sq. ft. of leasable space in ex-military buildings, which will double when the Air Force departs in 2011.

Among the tenants taking the first steps toward making Brooks a bio-med hub is DPT Laboratories, which broke ground on a $24 million building in May. Commercial broker Art Gonzales, which represented DPT in lease negotiations with Brooks, says consummating a deal at the former Air Force base for a 275,000 sq. ft. build-to-suit pharmaceuticals plant was challenging because the site is an existing runway. “You have to tear it up and get it back to a greenfield condition and then build on it,” says Gonzales.

On the other hand, “The bio-tech and research-oriented elements that were already there made it very attractive, because there was some synergy” between DPT and the military researchers, according to the broker.

The following month, Vanguard Health Systems and Baptist Health System signed an agreement to buy land at Brooks and a letter of intent to acquire land to relocate Southeast Baptist Hospital. The deal is still in negotiations and figures are not available, although base officials say a new hospital could employ up to 800 people.

Also under development is the $24.5 million City/County Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a command facility that would expand the disaster-response capacity of San Antonio and Bexar County.

Public investment in Brooks City-Base is “not a give-away,” insists Jakeway. Instead, that investment will generate new economic development initiatives in the long term. The former base, he predicts, is “going to be a job generator.”

Local residents do not have to wait for the bio-med industry to enjoy some benefits from the base. On a separate, 62-acre parcel near the underserved neighborhoods of Southside San Antonio, the reuse authority has invited retail developers. Anchors of the 570,000 sq. ft. center include a Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target. The developer is San Antonio-based Hill-Granados Retail Partners.

But what if the Pentagon had never listed Brooks Air Force Base on the closure list? In that case, says Jakeway, “we would have helped the Air Force save a whole lot of money.”

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