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New Town Twist on Military Living

Fort Belvoir's town center stands alone in the Army.

Fort Belvoir has become the first military base in the nation to provide a full service retail/commercial town center for its residents that brings hometown America to those whose hometown is America.

On Wednesday morning, Aug. 23, Fort Belvoir dedicated a new town center as part of its Residential Community Initiative program which in 2003 privatized military housing on the Southeastern Fairfax County base. RCI's goal of improving the quality of life for military families is being accomplished by providing those families with the same quality of housing found in the non-military suburban world.

"This is history in the making. This town center is the first of its kind ever on a military base," said Major General Paul W. "Bill" Essex, commander, Army and Air Force Exchange Service, who hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the opening of the center's retail and commercial establishments.

"This ceremony is particularly appropriate today because it is the 111th birthday of the Army/Air Force Exchange Service," Essex said. AAFES provides products and services to military families worldwide that generates funds utilized for military morale, welfare and recreation programs. Over the past decade, AAFES has contributed $2.4 billion from its proceeds to quality of life improvements for military families

Merchants located in the new town center along the base's 12th Street include: Starbucks, RAC Military Rentals, The Cleaners, The Sports Zone, Watch/Clock Specialty Gift with a Grandfather Clock showroom, a cigar and accessories shop, a barber shop, GNC, and an upscale transitional furniture store known as Classics and Country Gifts. Future plans include a day spa and other facilities.

A $3 million project, the Town Center is the "first mixed use incorporating retail enterprise into the national RCI program." It is the end result of a three way partnership between Clark Realty Capital of Bethesda, Md.; Clark Pinnacle Development of Seattle, Wash.; and Fort Belvoir.

Clark Realty Capital provides the development, design, construction and asset management. Pinnacle is providing property management services. Since its commencement, the partnership has delivered 636 homes, including 27 historic restorations.

Standing at the podium, in front of a banner announcing the dedication, Col. Brian Lauritzen, installation Commander, Fort Belvoir, said "Duty is about doing what is right for soldiers and their families. Behind me and to the right and left is what 'right' looks like," referring to the two-block-long colonial style enterprises and the townhomes to the rear with their private garages and center green space mall.

That was buttressed by Ivan Bolden, program manager, Residential Communities Initiative. "This is a true success story that must be told in both the Congress and the halls of the Pentagon," he said.

Unfortunately no member of Congress or the State General Assembly was present for the Town Center unveiling. Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland, a supporter of RCI since its initiation, was among the civilian and military dignitaries present.

In a lighter vein, Lauritzen told attendees, "I've got the greatest job in the Army as the installation commander. I've been told that while on the installation I'm always on duty. So now I can go shopping, get a spa treatment and a cup of Starbucks coffee, and I'm still on the job."

Others speaking to the success of the RCI program and particularly the creation of the Town Center included Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environments Keith Eastin; Christopher Guidi, project executive, Clark Realty Capital LLC; Don Spiegelmeyer, RCI executive director; and Lt. Col. Bart Physioc, installation chaplain.

"This is the first marriage between the Army, AAFES and a private developer for such a town center on a military base," said Guidi. "A model for installations around the world, this town center will serve as a gathering place for the community that draws Fort Belvoir closer together," Physioc said in his opening blessing on the ceremony.

Seated among the dignitaries was Fort Belvoir former Installation Commander, Col. T.W. Williams, under whose watch the RCI program initially took shape at Fort Belvoir. "This [town center] is more than I had ever expected and it was initiated by the developer," he said.

"It is important to the soldiers fighting the global war on terrorism that they know their families back home have the amenities and living conditions they need in terms of housing and security. That way they [the soldiers] can direct their attention to the job that needs to get done," Williams said.

Nationwide the RCI program has been underway for five year. It now is operative on 33 installations with a projected growth to 45 bases in the next five years. Since its inception, RCI has produced housing in modern community enclaves on military bases for 72,000 families. It officially began at Fort Belvoir in December 2003 when the Army and Clark Pinnacle came together to jointly own the base housing.