Theme Park Trumps Museum
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Theme Park Trumps Museum

Proposal would wrap hotel and amusement park around the new museum.

During last Wednesday's BRAC BOA meeting Fort Belvoir Installation Commander Col. Brian Lauritzen indicated that the reason for the relocation of the proposed Museum of the U.S. Army from Richmond Highway to the Engineering Proving Grounds was due to additional acreage required by the Museum Historical Foundation. As it turns out that extra acreage is for a theme park.

In answer to questions from Mount Vernon and Lee district supervisors Gerald Hyland and Dana Kauffman as to why the BRAC preferred site report had relocated the museum from the original Pence Gate location to EPG, Lauritzen answered that since he had taken command the museum needs had escalated from the original 45 acres to 125 acres.

That 125 acres is the same amount being consider by the Department of The Army for a private developer to construct a combined entertainment complex which will include the museum.

If approved, the U.S. Army National Museum β€” which is scheduled to open in 2013 β€” would be accompanied by a 125-acre hotel and entertainment complex at the base's Engineering Proving Grounds.

David Foster, an Army spokesman, said the Army plans to carefully weigh the proposal. "The Army intends to consider a visitor destination concept for the museum," he said. "But no decision has been made yet. It's a long, long road before anything is decided."

The needs of the museum itself have not changed, according to officials.

"We are absolutely opposed to any type of amusement park next to or including the Army museum. The original specifications for the museum have not changed as far as we know," said Jeffrey C. McKay, Kauffman's chief of staff.

"The driving force behind this is that a group of investors saw an opportunity to build a theme park and ease the fund raising sought by the foundation," he said. The Museum, estimated to cost approximately $300 million, is to be financed primarily through private contributions.

"To incorporate the museum with BRAC is just an excuse. This is all being driven by money rather than continuing the focus on honoring the American soldier. They (the Army) would do everyone a big favor by putting the museum back where it was intended from the beginning, adjacent to Pence Gate," McKay said.

"I haven't talked to anyone who approves of this theme park idea. I think we are at the beginning of a great public outcry. I have received many calls from people on Rolling Road opposed to the locating these structure there," he said.

"The Foundation has had trouble raising the necessary money but they are trying to do that at one of the worst times with all the other economic demands. They may very well be able to hit their goal as things improve," McKay said.

He also predicted that a major hurdle to placing either the museum or a theme park at EPG would be environmental factors. That has been a factor in completing the Fairfax County Parkway connector.

When asked for a response from Lauritzen, Donald Carr, Fort Belvoir public information officer, said that he had not talked with the Department of The Army on this latest proposal as of Tuesday morning. Both Hyland and Kauffman were out of the area and not available for direct comment.

The county's opposition to the theme park was echoed by U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

"The infrastructure around Fort Belvoir won't be able to handle the 23,000 DoD personnel already scheduled to come as part of the BRAC process. The Army should reject this proposal for development linked to the Army museum. We need to focus on mitigating congestion, not adding to it." he said.

Davis, who announced last week that he would hold a hearing to review the Army's plans for Fort Belvoir, added, "The Army is trying to move a force the size of the Pentagon to Fort Belvoir in the span of five years. We've got to be sure we do this right."