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Old Posted Apr 13, 2008, 4:19 PM
SAguy SAguy is online now
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Building boom to reverberate beyond Fort Sam-SA

From mysa.com-

Building boom to reverberate beyond Fort Sam

Jennifer Hiller

An aerial photo offers a peaceful, bird's-eye view of Fort Sam Houston and Brooke Army Medical Center.

From a distance, the idea of planting new buildings in empty fields, moving heavy equipment and crews in and out of four construction "bubbles" and finding space for between 10,000 and 12,400 additional military and civilian workers seems as neat and tidy as snapping the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

But on the ground, it's messier.

"We're building a mini-city," said Randy Holman, program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and spokesman for the Joint Program Management Office, the tri-service military group overseeing design and construction.

The ripple effect of such a massive undertaking will be felt well beyond the post itself.

Up to 12,400 new military and civilian workers means an influx of at least 2,500 spouses and 2,500 school-age kids.

More families are likely to generate demand for new apartments and condos, as well as grocery stores, dry cleaners and other services.

Post officials hope VIA creates transportation hubs for commuting workers.

Walters Street is being widened to accommodate more car, pedestrian and bike traffic.

Impressive, but the results of the 2005 base realignment and closure process — considered the biggest economic development bonanza in recent city history and a boost to the city's inner core — also is a big planning headache.

The Corps of Engineers is at the front edge of a $2 billion binge-building program that's likely to transform the military in San Antonio and neighborhoods near Fort Sam, which will see the bulk of the congressional construction spending.

In three years, the Corps of Engineers will build or renovate more than 6 million square feet of space.

The work includes 78 major buildings and is the equivalent, in square footage, of adding about 30 more Wal-Mart Supercenters to San Antonio, Holman said.

This is a pivotal year for the Corps of Engineers, which plans to award more than $1 billion in construction contracts by the end of September.

The overwhelming volume of construction work is sapping the city's already busy labor force, and, starting in 2010, the new military and civilian workers in the 36 additional agencies moving to San Antonio could clog streets and worsen traffic near the urban post, which already has about 23,000 workers.

City, county, military and business leaders are identifying needed street, sidewalk, public transportation and bike lane improvements, and what sorts of new businesses — apartments, condos, grocery stores and the like — might serve the influx.

"I keep telling everyone, 'Hold on, y'all. You'd better dig your heels in,'" said District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil, who represents part of the area near the post and serves on a local military task force. "We're going to have growth, traffic and opportunities. It's so close to downtown. It's going to expand and broaden the area."

The economic impact of the construction and jobs equals two-plus Toyota plants. (Construction on Toyota's Tundra manufacturing plant cost $1.2 billion and Toyota employs about 2,000 workers. Its suppliers employ another 2,100 people.)

"The magnitude of what is going on has been called the most complex and dynamic planning for this BRAC process," said Col. Wendy Martinson, garrison commander at Fort Sam.

The construction includes everything from high-tech medical facilities to parking lots.

Fort Sam will become the heart of the military's medical training programs. The Medical Education Training Campus— essentially a new college campus dropped in the middle of the post — will include dorms, classrooms, labs, training areas and a 4,800-person dining hall. An estimated 9,000 students at a time will spend between a few months to a year here. Camp Bullis off Interstate 10 will have a field medic training center for the students.

At Brooke Army Medical Center, crews will renovate 250,000 square feet of space, while keeping the hospital operating, and will build a seven-story tower and a 5,000-car parking garage.

BAMC will change names and become known as San Antonio Military Medical Center North, or SAMMC North, and will serve as an inpatient hospital. Following renovations, Wilford Hall at Lackland AFB will become known as SAMMC South and will be for outpatients

By 2011, San Antonio will have the largest inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities in the military. All branches of the military medical personnel will receive their training here, Holman said.

Greg Oveland, president of Eisenhower Bank, the military branch of Broadway Bank, said it's difficult for people to understand the size and scope of the changes unless they have regular access to a military base.

"It's a seismic event," he said. "We've had military so long that we're immersed in it. I don't think the general public understands the size of it. It will define the city as we go on."

Neighborhood effects

For now, Fort Sam's immediate neighbors have the city's clearest understanding of the construction volume, thanks to concrete trucks, work crews and heavy equipment rumbling down their streets.
"Our neighbors are probably all too aware of what's going on," Martinson said.

She and others hope the short-term pain will be a long-term win for the area.

While the post borders tony Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills, it also adjoins neighborhoods on the verge of revival such as Government Hill and Dignowity Hill.

"It should promote an increase in residential development," said Bob Murdock, director of the city's office of military affairs. "Hopefully, that will be something that can help a somewhat economically depressed area."

Murdock and Martinson said the area needs a few apartment complexes that offer furnished and unfurnished units, renovated houses that are move-in ready, a grocery store and smaller businesses such as bakeries or coffee shops.

Martinson noted that many of the neighborhoods along the Interstate 35 corridor were hopeful the AT&T Center would give the area a boost and bring a variety of businesses such as restaurants — something that so far hasn't happened.

She hopes the Fort Sam construction work will have a more significant impact for the neighborhoods, thanks to the daily flow of people on and off post.

Fort Sam's growth also is expected to add to the energy of the nearby River North expansion and Pearl Brewery revitalization along the Broadway corridor.

Fort Sam has 925 family quarters now and has no plans to build additional housing on the post.

Instead, Martinson hopes people will want to live downtown and in nearby neighborhoods. Many of the new military and civilian workers will arrive from San Diego, Calif., Washington, D.C., and other cities where urban living and smaller homes are more common.

"A lot of these people live in condominiums," Martinson said. "They're used to smaller quarters. They want to be close to downtown."

Living close to the post would solve another potential problem.

"If you live right outside the base, that will alleviate the traffic issues," McNeil said. "We already have transportation challenges as it is."

Traffic of all sorts

Martinson has her own transportation ideas.
"I joke about asking Disney World if they have any leftover rail we can use," said Martinson, who would love to see commuter rail on and off the post.

Less pie-in-the-sky (for now) are the post's plans to work with VIA to develop transportation hubs for commuters.

Pedestrians and bike riders also will have an easier time getting on post. Now, they must travel along cracked, weed-covered sidewalks and get a view of an impromptu landfill on their way to the Walters Street gate.

"Everybody and their brother has been throwing couches and dinettes in the ditch for a million years," Martinson said.

But the city is widening Walters Street to six lanes with new sidewalks and a bike lane.

The Texas Department of Transportation recently tore down the Walters Street railroad bridge, part of a $22.5 million project to replace it and add turnarounds, sidewalks and bike lanes.

BRAC also will allow Fort Sam to renovate many of its historic buildings — which range from Victorian Italianate and Georgian Revival to Spanish Colonial Revival — along with what John Manguso, director of the Fort Sam Houston Museum, said is "whatever they call all the stuff between WWII and the 1980s."

As one of the Army's oldest active posts, 500 of Fort Sam's 3,000 acres sit in a National Historic Landmark District with many of the significant buildings still in use as offices and homes. Others have sat vacant for years, but will find new life as offices for incoming workers.

The Long Barracks, among the more than four dozen Fort Sam buildings designed by the late-19th- and early-20th century San Antonio architect Alfred Giles, is one such unused building in need of repair that's likely to become the new home for one of the Army agencies moving to San Antonio.

Although the post is rapidly filling with buildings, Martinson said the Army will protect its signature parade field from encroachment. The parade field has hosted everything from Fiesta events to Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. Benjamin Foulois made the first military flight there in 1910.

And for the record, the peacocks, geese, deer and other animals that call the Quadrangle home are doing just fine and aren't being uprooted by the construction.

Martinson said it's always the first question she's asked by San Antonians, who have decades of collective fond memories of picnicking in the Quadrangle.

Many people stopped visiting the Quadrangle, built between 1876 and 1877, after Sept. 11, 2001, but it's still open to the public as long as people check with post security.

Schools and families

Funds from other military budgets will be used to construct even more projects beyond the immediate BRAC scope.

A new commissary, exchange, movie theater and shopping area are being planned for Fort Sam in a pedestrian center that will mimic the style of The Shops at La Cantera. There's no official budget yet, although the area would easily cost more than $100 million. Staybridge Suites will operate a 695-room hotel nearby.

"We want our service members and families to feel the community you'd feel in a small town," Martinson said. "I grew up in a small town, and downtown was where it was all happening."

And the 10,000 to 12,000 military and civilian workers won't come to San Antonio by themselves.

An estimated 5,000 family members will tag along, including 2,500 children under the age of 18.

McNeil said all the local school districts know about the potential arrival of new students. "It seems as if their position is, we'll deal with it when it gets here," McNeil said. "We are clearly communicating to them that you have all of these individuals coming. You need to prepare for that."

The assumption is that people without children will want to live close to the post, while families may scatter to various suburbs. Martinson believes that San Antonio's builders will be able to supply the 1,000 or so new homes likely needed by the arriving families.

Nuts and bolts

For the next three years, the Corps of Engineers will coordinate an elaborate construction schedule and guide San Antonio businesses through the process of becoming federal contractors.

"We need everything from soup to nuts," Holman said. "I need light bulbs in the ceiling. I need carpet on the floors. I need someone who can put the buildings together."

Finding soup-to-nuts firms isn't easy when the city is in the middle of a commercial construction boom.

"The local companies that do quality work and have good reputations are being more selective now than they ever have before," said Doug McMurry, executive vice president of the Associated General Contractors of America in San Antonio.

"In general, the corps is considered a very tough owner to work with," he said, due to additional paperwork and strict budgets that don't often accompany private-sector work.

Every six months, the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the city and the Corps of Engineers have been holding fairs to explain to contractors the federal bidding process.

Brent Ivey, head of the Gilbane Building Co. San Antonio office, said his company uses the fairs to build its database of small contractors so it can quickly partner with them when it estimates costs and bids on a project. Gilbane broke ground this year on the $92 million Joint Center of Excellence for Battlefield Health and Trauma Research, and will bid on other major projects.

"The speed required to get these projects finished and started is really tight," Ivey said. "Being engaged in it from the beginning is the key."

Finding workers is another problem. Wages for skilled labor are rising about 1 percent per month and because Houston, Dallas and Austin also have an onslaught of construction, companies cannot simply recruit a neighboring work force and transplant them to San Antonio.
But really, these are good problems to have.

The country is likely in the middle of a recession, and San Antonio isn't. So no one complains too loudly about traffic congestion, a labor shortage or the various challenges of a timeline that requires all work be completed by Sept. 30, 2011, when the congressional funding faucet turns off.

"We have to work together to get this work done. There's no other alternative. We want them to have access to good firms," McMurry said. "We really want them to be successful."

After all, the alternative to juggling job and construction growth would be watching military jobs march out of town.
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Old Posted Apr 13, 2008, 5:42 PM
texboy texboy is online now
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This is so great for SA....Im so glad my hometown is kickin ass in the jobs department! Out of all the major markets in Texas....this is the ONE MAJOR market I could see myself investing in once I graduate college...You have a guranteed market that is going to have solid, almost guaranteed urban core growth...I think any serious investor would be completely ignorant to overlook this market as most have in the past decade.
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2008, 12:54 AM
Targus Targus is offline
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Check out the SAMMC Website it has some information on the Ft. Sam expansion but has a great video on the conceptual design for SAMMC.

SAMMC Website

Video on SAMMC
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Old Posted Apr 14, 2008, 10:59 PM
Paul in S.A TX's Avatar
Paul in S.A TX Paul in S.A TX is offline
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Wow!! Cool to see all the inner city projects at full force.
2018 S. A. Pop.1.51 million
metro 2.5 million/REGION 4.7million
San Antonio economy and largest economic sectors. Annual contribution towards GDP.
U.S. Dept of Defense $48.5 billion/Manufacturing $40.5 billion/Healthcare-Biosciences $40 billion/Finance-Insurance $20 billion/Tourism $15 billion/ Technology $10 billion.
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