VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — When Capt. John Hewitt took over as commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana in September 2019, he’d have no idea he’d be leading the U.S. Navy’s master jet base through the coronavirus pandemic.
In a media conference Wednesday, Hewitt said he is proud of the way his 14 operational squadrons, fleet replacement squadron and 72 partner commands made it through the thick of COVID-19.
“Masks and having people sequester themselves for a period of time and still meet the Navy’s mission, you can see how that just adds to that pressure,” Hewitt said overlooking the flight line. “But we were able to do it.”
Now as he prepares to be relieved of duty by Capt. Robert Holmes, he looks to his other big accomplishment: starting the process that could drastically change the look of Oceana and the cost to run it.
“I have a blank palette here for a new opportunity,” Hewitt said.
For the past several years, Hewitt, along with other Navy top brass, has been working with the City of Virginia Beach on a concept known as “Future Base Design.”
In March, City Council voted to enter into a non-binding agreement with the Navy to help them find new opportunities for the 1,100 acres of land and services on base that aren’t deemed critical to the Navy’s overall readiness.
A recent report — conducted by the Counselors of Real Estate (CRE), an international organization of commercial property professionals — found that NAS Oceana has “13 non-core activities that just break even or lose money, and 82% of patrons use only 4 of them.”
The “activities” include base amenities such as fitness and sports facilities, community recreation activities, bowling and golf.
Additionally, Hewitt has said the base isn’t receiving enough funding to adequately keep up with its aging infrastructure. Roughly 60% of the base’s barracks are uninhabitable because of a variety of problems, including mold.
The plan calls for public-private partnerships with the city and Navy to take over the services.
For instance, if someone were to come in and run the golf course, instead of paying rent to the Navy in form of cash, they would provide some type of “in-kind” service to them.
“I can turn that into $10,000 in road maintenance, or $10,000 in roof maintenance or HVAC maintenance, that way I can keep 100% of that in-kind consideration,” Hewitt said.
For new development purposes, all projects will be limited to ones where there are not a lot of people, as to meet density requirements.
Hewitt said he expects the first partner in the new plan to be Dominion Energy. They have eyed 140-acre former horse stable facilities as a place to place infrastructure for their growing offshore wind program.
At the official change of command ceremony next week, Mayor Bobby Dyer and Rear Adm. Charles W. Rock, commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, plan to sign the formal agreement to move forward with future base design.
“According to the CRE report, they know of no other military base or municipality where the partnership is as strong,” Hewitt said. “I can’t say enough good things about my good friends at the City of Virginia Beach.”