Fort Mixed Use; for Sale: 214,300 Acres of Federally Owned, Military Base Land with Functional and Historic Buildings; Some Working Airfields and Ports Included. Great Opportunity for Bold Developers and Bolder Lenders. Inevitably Requires Costly Contaminated-Land Cleanup. Possible Unexploded Ordnance. Sale Ends Sept. 15, 2011

Article excerpt

The fourth installment of the Indiana Jones movie franchise starring Harrison Ford starts rolling this summer--not in Hollywood, but at Lucasfilm Ltd.'s 850,000-square-foot facility in San Francisco. [??] And not at your typical studio with cavernous sound stages and vast parking lots, but at the Presidio downtown--in a fort the Spanish built in 1776, later manned by Mexican soldiers and finally a U.S. Army post. [??] In 1995, the U.S. Army received its marching orders for the Presidio from the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission round of congressionally approved military base closures, leaving nearly 900 empty buildings. Roughly half have so far been renovated. [??] The transformation of the Presidio is a textbook case of how to turn a decommissioned Army base into a model public-sector/private-sector, community-oriented development and financing collaboration. Granted, few former bases occupy such near-heavenly locations, nestled up close to scenic San Francisco Bay with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Nevertheless, it is one of the best, but certainly not the only, creatively planned, ingeniously redeveloped and popular communities fashioned out of reconfigured, rationalized or modified military bases. It was kick-started by billions in federal government dollars for environmental cleanup and other closure costs.

Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust, San Francisco, a federal corporation established by act of Congress in 1996, explains the trust manages 80 percent of the site and its redevelopment. The National Park Service manages the rest and owns the entire property, including its 300-acre wilderness park and its handsome cypress, pine and eucalyptus forests.

Nothing except birds flies anymore out of the former Crissy Field military airport attached to the base at the head of the Golden Gate Bridge, but strollers, joggers, hikers and bicyclists swarm its marsh-fringed open spaces and trails.

The Presidio exerts a special charm as a place to live and/or work in redeveloped Army barracks and other buildings, with the heart of San Francisco lying just outside its main entrance. George Lucas' Lucasfilm, for example, bought an abandoned Spanish-American War-vintage hospital and replaced it with a $300 million facility encompassing a film and related technology research center and 1,500-car garage under a 17-acre park.

The company's film, special effects, video gaming, marketing empire and corporate divisions, with about 1,500 employees, are all housed in the Lucasfilm facility.

Then there is the Los Angeles-based Walt Disney Family Foundation, which will start renovating three 19th-century buildings this year to house a $15 million Walt Disney Family Museum and Library.

It will be a shrine to Disney's artistic accomplishments and the animated film industry he dominated. A children's learning center, artifacts and archival material, exhibits on animation and motion pictures, research center, exhibits of artworks influenced by Disney, a book store/gift shop and small cafe will be included. It is expected to open in August 2009.

Lucasfilm and the Disney foundation are among 225 foundations, nonprofit organizations and commercial businesses, and 2,700 residents (about half the projected final residential population) that are for the most part tenants (some of the occupants own their own premises). More than half the buildings have been renovated, Polk says, and when the dust settles more than 3.5 million square feet of commercial space will be available.

Has it been a financial drain on the public purse? Polk says the trust became self-sufficient last year--well ahead of 2013, when Congress would have stopped sending money, as it has on a diminishing scale by about $1 million a year since it opened.

"We've been covering our operating costs since 2004 through rental revenue," she explains. …