Monday, July 12, 2010


Fort Monroe shift hitting Va home stretch
Jun 28, 2010 4:58 PM

A new state panel on Thursday will take on Fort Monroe's shift from a military outpost on the Chesapeake Bay to a Virginia possession requiring up to $80 million in repairs.

The state is scheduled to take over the historic Hampton military outpost in September 2011. The 11-member Fort Monroe Authority is charged with overseeing its maintenance, preservation and rebirth "as a vibrant and thriving community."

This week, the state entity will take the reins from the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, a quasi-public agency that has been involved for several years in the planning of the military's departure from Fort Monroe and the state's takeover.

Fort Monroe planners envision a tourism destination with museums and other attractions focusing on the post's military history, in addition to private investment to attract visitors.

The new panel, which includes legislators and members of Gov. Bob McDonnell's cabinet, will be more business-focused with an eye on securing funding for the transition, said Bill Armbruster, executive director of the authority that is disbanding. He will continue on with the new state panel.

Armbruster already has been involved in that key task, having returned from a recent trip to Washington to seek out federal dollars to complement the future state investments the shift will require.

"We need funding support, obviously," Armbruster said Monday. "It's a small city."

The 565-acre property includes a six-sided, 63-acre fortress sealed by 1.3 miles of granite - the last active moated fort in the U.S. The property includes 264 government buildings and housing, and a majority of the buildings are deemed historic.

A report released at the authority's final meeting on Thursday estimated Fort Monroe will need $70 million to $80 million in infrastructure repairs. That includes streets, bridges, flood protection and other issues.

"We view it as an investment because we believe it (Fort Monroe) will be ultimately self-sustaining," Armbruster said. He termed the funding a "bridge loan" to that ultimate goal.

The National Park Service will send a team to Fort Monroe in July to size up the property. If it decides to establish a presence at the fort, the agency would bring federal dollars with it.

"The Park Service is a tremendous steward of our natural heritage and park lands," Armbruster said in an interview. "We just think this place has an incredible story to tell and that partnering with the Park Service makes sense."

The Park Service official who will lead the Fort Monroe visit described it as a follow-up to a review conducted several years ago at the fort, before a reuse plan was developed and a permanent state authority was created.

The study concluded that while Fort Monroe is a national treasure, the service would need a "strong and sustainable partner" to help manage, maintain and operate it once the military moves on.

Terrence D. Moore, chief of planning and compliance for the northeast region with the Park Service, described the July 19-23 visit as "simply a follow-up."

"I think it's part of the process of trying to define what role, if any, we might have," he said.

Moore said the Park Service responded to a request from members of Virginia's congressional delegation to provide technical assistance and a possible future role for the department in the fort's development. He said he is not authorized to discuss any future Park Service relationship with Fort Monroe.

Old Point Comfort, the peninsula upon with the fortress is built, and Fort Monroe have been players in Virginia's history since the arrival of English settlers four centuries ago. The first enslaved Africans arrived at Point Comfort in 1619, and slaves sought their freedom at Fort Monroe during the Civil War when it served as a Union outpost.

Edgar Allen Poe served several months in the military at Fort Monroe in 1828, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned there after the South's defeat.

Part of a reuse plan has entailed museums or historical displays reflecting the fort's history involving African-Americans and the Civil War. The property also includes 8 miles of waterfront and a 332-slip marina.

"There's so much there to work with," Armbruster said. "We have a lot to do but we're excited about it."