Army Museum Moves Closer To Route 1

Army Museum Moves Closer To Route 1

Political pressure moves the site not the financing.

What was it "Deep Throat" told Woodward and Bernstein at the initiation of the Watergate scandal in "All the President's Men" — "follow the money." That could equally apply to the location of the Museum of the U.S. Army. However, in this case it could have a dual interpretation.

For the past year the location of the museum has been a hot potato at every meeting of the Fort Belvoir Board of Advisors considering various facets of the Base Realignment and Closure Report (BRAC) that somehow came to include the proposed museum. What a tourist attraction has to do with the nation's military readiness poses a fascinating conundrum.

Local politicians and business leaders, along with the hierarchy of the U.S. Army Foundation, charged with raising the necessary funds to build and equip the museum, now estimated at $300 million, had always envisioned its location along Richmond Highway in the vicinity of Fort Belvoir's main entrance, Pence Gate. Then came the word from the Pentagon it was going to the Engineering Proving Grounds (EPG) portion of Fort Belvoir off Backlick Road in the Springfield area.

This set off a firestorm of controversy between U.S. Army officials and local leaders. The Army's rationale was that having the museum at the Route 1 location would exacerbate traffic congestion anticipated by the expanding DeWitt Hospital facility and the incoming BRAC personnel.

However, the vast majority of the anticipated 22,000 plus personnel being relocated to Belvoir were scheduled for the EPG — 18,000 plus. Only a little over 4,000 were scheduled for the main post off Route 1.

What seemed to be driving the Pentagon decision makers was financing the museum. While both the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and the U.S. Marine Corps had successfully raised the necessary funds to finance their planned and completed museum projects the U.S. Army Foundation has fallen way behind.

"The fact that ground had not been broken (for the museum) at the Route 1 site by the time the BRAC report was released was why the museum's location became part of Fort Belvoir's BRAC planning process," said Col. Brian Lauritzen, Fort Belvoir installation commander, at a Board of Advisors (BOA) meeting on BRAC planning.

Gerald Connolly, chair, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; Gerald Hyland, Mount Vernon District Supervisor; Dana Kauffman, Lee District Supervisor; Richard R. "Rick" Neel, president, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation and past president Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce; Pierce Homer, secretary, Virginia Department of Transportation; U.S. Reps. James P. Moran (R-8) and Thomas M. Davis, III (R-11); Sen. John W. Warner (R-VA); and other all disagreed with the EPG location for the museum.

REGARDLESS, the U.S. Department of the Army insisted EPG was the best museum location. One of the primary factors in that evaluation was the Army's fascination with what they termed "Enhanced Use Leasing."

This calls for creating a government/private enterprise partnership to bring about a desired result. It has proven quite successful, both financially and sociologically, in developing new housing and a sense of community at Fort Belvoir and other military bases.

It was the essence of this concept that prompted the Department of the Army to explore a similar arrangement with developers for the EPG museum site to development and build not only the museum but also a series of commercial enterprises around the museum. This was at the core of the proposed enhanced use lease (EUL) agreement.

Under the EUL concept, private developers would contribute significantly to the construction and development of the museum in return for the opportunity to develop support facilities such as hotels and other tourism amenities. However, the acreage required for additional development was supposedly well in excess of that possibly at the Route 1 site.

There was also the BRAC plan to expand Fort Belvoir's DeWitt Hospital as part of the plan to close Walter Reed Army Hospital and divide its services between a revitalized/expanded DeWitt and Bethesda Naval Hospital. Increasing DeWitt's mission would also theoretically increase Route 1 traffic.

This all came to a head Nov. 30 when Moran issued the following statement: "I'm pleased that the Army has listened to the concerns of Northern Virginia leaders. By choosing to change the preferred site from the Engineering Proving Grounds to a location near other local tourist attractions, the Army has shown a willingness to compromise.

"Sen. Warner and I made clear our objections to the Army's use of an enhanced use lease agreement to cover the museum's costs. I commend the Army for heeding those concerns and wisely changing course."

Moran went on to say, "We need to determine the most appropriate site for the Army Museum on Fort Belvoir, one that both the Army and community leaders can agree on." He then noted, "Army officials have announced that their preferred site is now at the Kingman Gate to Fort Belvoir." That gate is located off the Fairfax County Parkway prior to its intersection with Route 1.

THE PRIMARY REASON local and elected officials have been pushing for a Route 1 location is so that the museum becomes a complement to the other tourist attraction in the immediate area such as Mount Vernon Estate, Gunston Hall, Woodlawn Plantation, and the recently opened Museum of the U.S. Marine Corps. The EPG site lacks proximity and easy accessibility to any of these other attractions, as noted by those who have supported the Pence Gate location.

In a press release issued by the Department of The Army, Keith Eastin, assistant secretary, Army Installations and Environment said, "After consulting extensively with our local congressional delegation, Fairfax County Supervisors and other members of the public we are persuaded that the Kingman site better supports the region's traffic needs and the desires of our community neighbors."

He then added, "We do not intend to further pursue any ‘Enhanced Use Leasing’ for the museum at Belvoir." However, the final selection of a site depends upon the outcome of the Environmental Impact Statement process that is currently underway, according to Eastin and Fort Belvoir officials.

LOCAL REACTION to the turn of events has, for the most part been positive. "It's the first step on the road to a win-win solution," said Lee District Supervisor Dana Kauffman.

"I am extremely grateful to Representative Moran for his intervention. But, I'm still concerned about transportation, transportation, transportation," Kauffman said.

"The number of employees coming to the EPG is still twice the population of Falls Church on one half the land mass. And, I still want the GSA warehouses brought into the mix," he said.

"The new museum site is not perfect but we realize we have to compromise just as the Army is compromising. I still believe the best location for the museum is Pence Gate which would bring it closer to Mount Vernon and other tourist destination sites," Kauffman said.

"The Army has made its first logical move and that wouldn't have happened except for Moran. The key reason any locale would like to have this museum is due to all the tax money produced by the commercial enterprises it will spawn. This new location brings Richmond Highway back into the mix," he said.

Hyland, the Mount Vernon District Supervisor, a strong and vociferous proponent of the Pence Gate site, was not nearly as upbeat about the Kingman Gate decision. "It's not where we wanted it. It's not Pence Gate," he said.

"Pence Gate is what the Army Museum Foundation, I and others have lobbied for. They have never proposed to locate the museum at Kingman. It came right out of the blue. Pence gate is what we all lobbied Congress for," Hyland insisted.

"The decision to put it at Kingman Gate was not done in collaboration with local decision makers as Eastin maintained. Pence Gate is what everyone except the Army agreed upon," he said.

THE ARMY'S PLAN to locate the museum at Kingman Gate also came as a surprise to Richard "Rick" Neel, president, Southeast Fairfax Development Corporation and past president Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce. "The Fairfax County Parkway location is certainly much better than the EPG. But, this site has not been the subject of any previous discussions," he said.

"I would like the Army to have some real discussions with business and political leaders on this site. Overall, its a positive development. I believe it will lead to a success for both the Army and the Richmond Highway corridor," Neel said.

According to Neel, Stephen Fuller, Ph.D., professor of public policy, conducted a study for the Army Historical Foundation concluding that "the museum will provide a significant economic boost for the Southeast Fairfax County area." Neel cited Fuller's projections of a $403 million economic impact during construction followed by a $553 million boost after construction.

He also cited a job potential of 2,300 during construction and a permanent job increase of approximately 564 after construction. "The majority of these new permanent jobs would be in the hospitality industry," according to Neel.

"This is certainly a step in the right direction. I'm very pleased the Army has reappraised its site for the museum. SFDC has long been an advocate for the museum on Richmond Highway," Neel said.

However, the primary stumbling block to the museum becoming a reality is money. Thus far the Foundation is lagging well behind schedule in raising the estimate $300 million. That will be the ultimate challenge, regardless of where it is located, if it is to meet its scheduled opening date of 2013.