- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Navy is proceeding with plans to have a private developer build office space behind the fence at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. The Navy then would lease those offices.
The open hostility to this idea by some in the development community outside of the base gates, which delayed the plan a year ago, has largely abated. Still, it makes some in the business community uneasy.
Since the 1990s bets have been placed, and in some cases fortunes have been made, by building commercial space occupied by the military contractors associated with Pax River. But now there is vacant office space for rent and fears that by building new offices on base property, private developers will suffer.
Those fears have been largely tamped down by assurances that the plans for private development at Pax River wonít include retail shops or restaurant space that would compete with those that now line Route 235 near the base.
Those concerns also have been muted by the reality that no one in the business community wants to pick a fight with the Navy for fear of killing the golden goose that has made St. Maryís the 14th-richest county in the United States. They particularly donít want to do that with plans afoot for another round of military base closings. The business community would like to see activities at Pax River expand, not contract.
And that is what is at stake, say those who have pushed the business community to settle down and accept what the Navy calls its enhanced use lease proposal. The offices at Pax River are crowded and in some cases decrepit; more than 2,000 employees work in what were intended to be temporary buildings.
In other times, money to upgrade, expand or replace these offices might have been put in the military construction budget. Congress would appropriate the money, the Navy would contract someone to build office buildings and the Navy would own them.
But the current economic and political reality is that these days thereís no military construction money to pay for such things.
So the enhanced use lease agreement was devised to allow a private company to build these office buildings on 42 acres of Pax River property and lease them to the Navy for decades. Sure, the EUL may be no cheaper in the long run, but this is the way the money to build the offices is available.
The Navy is treading cautiously on this EUL agreement. A Houston firm has been selected to develop a business and leasing plan. Only after that is evaluated will a decision be made to build or not.
While local developers would prefer to be building these offices outside of the base gates on property they own, thatís not going to happen. Since itís not, and since the Navy already has agreed not to build shops or restaurants, thereís no reason for the community to draw any distinction between the EUL and a regular military construction contract at Pax River.
In the end, if the Navy makes a decades-long commitment to lease offices it allows a private developer to build on base, it not only upgrades facilities, it permits the expansion of work at Pax River. That sends an important signal about the Navyís plans for its future in St. Maryís during the next round of base closings and consolidations.