HAMPTON, Va., (WAVY) — Leaders at Fort Monroe are hoping private developers can bring some new uses to some very old buildings on the grounds of one of Virginia’s national historic landmarks.
Earlier this month, the Fort Monroe Authority issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of 14 buildings that sit on four different sections of the 529-plus acre property. Billing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, the hope is to preserve the buildings while also supporting the authority’s overall vision for the mixed-use historical community.
Many of the buildings are approaching or are already over 100 years old. A majority of them have sat vacant since the U.S. Army left in 2011.
“The Fort Monroe Authority for the past 10 years has been accepting more and more responsibility for this property,” Glenn Oder, executive director for the taxpayer-supported authority, said Monday.
That responsibility includes keeping air circulating in the building, keeping them heated and keeping utilities connected.
“We don’t want to have them mothballed,” Oder said.
Oder said one of the goals of the RFP is to take that responsibility off the hands of the taxpayer-funded authority. He adds with use of historical tax credits, a private developer can also make necessary upgrades to the buildings at a cheaper cost.
“They are not handicap accessible … most of them do not have elevators. They have limited parking and they also don’t have a lot of women’s restrooms in them,” Oder said.
When it comes to what could go into the more than 300,000 square feet of space being offered up, Oder said the sky is the limit, as long as it is of “high-quality” and to the standards of the Secretary of the Interior for treatment of historic properties.
Much of the RFP lists possibilities for hospitality, residential, retail and office use.
“We want to make an opportunity for small businesses as well as larger companies to come to Fort Monroe,” Oder said.
Fort Monroe has a long storied past dating back to the 1600s.
Known as Port Comfort 1619, it is recognized as the site where the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. During the Civil War, it earned the nickname “Freedom’s Fortress” as a place where escaped slaves could find refuge.
For more than two centuries, it was controlled by the U.S. military and most recently was home to the headquarters for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
President Barack Obama proclaimed a portion of Fort Monroe a National Monument in 2011 and today the destination is operated in partnership with the National Park Service.
No land will be sold as part of the redevelopment proposal. Instead, ground leases will be given to chosen developers, much like they are now.
Fort Monroe already has more than a dozen businesses and agencies leasing historic buildings, and many live in former military housing year-round.
“We’re not doing anything with the residential properties, the residential properties will remain under responsibility of the Fort Monroe Authority and we’ll continue to manage those just like we have,” Oder said.
They just may receive new neighbors.
No new construction will be allowed as part of a proposal, and all proposals must take into account the governor’s executive orders on sea level rise.
Oder said they may choose one developer for all four sites or split them up, depending on what is submitted.
Proposals are due Feb. 1. Oder hopes the authority can enter into negations with developers next spring.
Oder said when all is said and done, Fort Monroe could be an attraction the likes of the Historic Triangle, which is the area between Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg.
“We have $9 million visitors center, we have the Casemate Museum, we have the beaches, we have the walking trails, we have the fortress,” Oder said. “We have so much for people to see now which actually makes the opportunity for an investor to take advantage of the properties and be part of what we are doing here, this dynamic, mixed use historic community.”