Former mayor, defense official offer BRAC advice

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Two officials who have experience with Base Realignment and Closure have written some insights they hope will be of value to communities that may lose facilities in this year's BRAC round.

Paul Tauer is the former mayor of Aurora, Colo. -- an affected city. Patrick O’Brien, Defense Department’s office of economic adjustment director, helps affected cities meet economic challenges.

"I was fortunate, or unfortunate enough, to be the mayor … during both the 1991 base closure round, which closed Lowry Air Force Base, and the 1995 base closure round, which closed Fitzsimons Army Medical Center,” Mr. Tauer said. “My first thought was, 'My God, we're going to be faced with having a closed military facility, with weeds 5 feet tall, and boarded up buildings and fenced, and what a detriment to the community it would be.' But on further reflection, it became obvious that something had to be done.

"In both cases, there was a lot of concern and consternation about what's going to happen now, and what is it going to mean for business viability,” he said. “The veterans' community was particularly aghast because they were concerned about the medical care, more than anything, and the ability to buy things at the (exchange) and the commissary, and so forth. There was a tremendous outcry and concern, by the community, as a whole, and particularly, the veterans' community, about both possible closures.

"In the case of Lowry Air Force Base, we started out concentrating on the fight to keep it open after it was announced for closure,” Mr. Tauer said. “And, so, there really wasn't any preplanning with Lowry or dual tracking as it is now called. With Fitzsimons, it was different. We did the preplanning, or at least, I was involved in the preplanning process and provided that leadership for the community for more than six months (before) the closure being approved.

"My advice to a local official who is in the same situation that I was in, of having their base nominated for closure or realignment:

"First, do the preplanning right away,” he said. “If you really think that you'll ultimately be closed/realigned, don't wait until it's finalized. Start preplanning now, figure out what kinds of options you might have, and start working on those, and seeing which is the most viable option, so you can immediately go into it, if in fact you are on the list.

"Second, involve the entire community,” Mr. Tauer said. “By getting the business community, the neighborhoods and everyone else involved in the process sooner in the planning process, you get buy-in from the whole community so they can all help and have a piece of the success, when it occurs.

"Third is take advantage of the strengths that exist in the community,” he said. “Assess your strengths and weaknesses, then forget the weaknesses and emphasize the strengths. Next, find what and who you can use within the community to lead the effort and to be an integral part of the redevelopment. This is another very critical element that assists in making sure the whole project is successful. Be successful as soon as possible, because the longer you wait to get started, the less you have buy-in, or the less you emphasize your strengths and have to come back to them later. All of that causes delays, which compound themselves as you go through the process. Our preplanning efforts probably saved a year or two in redevelopment at Fitzsimons."

Mr. O’Brien cited BRAC successes.

"Communities responding to today's BRAC recommendations must build upon the positive experiences of other communities, like Aurora, Colo., and Paul Tauer, to help deal with the initial negative reactions created by a BRAC recommendation and reverse course to seek a bright future for their families, workers and businesses,” he said. “A record of the success for these local efforts is found, in part, in the redevelopment progress that is annually reported to the Department of Defense's office of economic adjustment. Reuse activity through Oct. 31, 2004, has resulted in the creation of (more than) 115,000 jobs; (more than) 89 percent of the 129,649 civilian jobs lost as a result of BRAC actions.

"Job creation is only one of many factors local officials measure in gauging the success of their local adjustment efforts,” Mr. O’Brien said. “For others, success may mean satisfying unique local needs through the use of former military installation property. These include the expansion of the local tax base, development of needed institutional/public goods (schools, health facilities, parks, airports, port facilities, etc.), and the construction of additional housing.

"Any community official, worker, business interest or affected family member must remember the advice offered to those facing a BRAC recommendation by Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, the former mayor of Orlando who led the local efforts in response to the closure of Naval Training Center Orlando: 'There will always be those who say it can't be done, but, if you stay focused, and if you believe and have the passion in what you know you can bring about, it will happen.'" (Courtesy of American Forces Press Service)