The military's loss could be Salt Lake City's and the University of Utah's gain.
If bills being filed by several Utah congressmen pass, the U., which is bursting at the seams, will acquire the Fort Douglas property.The fort is one of 86 military installations nationwide recommended for closure by the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
U. President Chase Peterson said the prospect of adding the Fort Douglas property to the university is exciting, but he is cautiously waiting the final decision, which probably won't be made until late winter.
The fort's possible closure has also renewed Salt Lake City's desire to regain the Red Butte Canyon water rights it lost to the Army 126 years ago.
LeRoy W. Hooton, director of public utilities for Salt Lake City, said the city is in a good position to use the water, although no plant exists to treat it. A small plant to treat both Emigration Canyon and Red Butte water may be economically feasible, he said.
The city already supplies water to the fort through a reservoir at the mouth of the canyon. But Hooton said that reservoir is fed from the Parleys Canyon treatment plant, not Red Butte.
"We feel it (the water) really belongs to Salt Lake City. It was confiscated from the city way back when."
Whether the city will get its wish remains to be seen.
The usual process for disposing of such property is to turn it over to the General Services Administration, which is directed to sell it at fair market value. Congressional action to deed it to the university would override that process, however.
Utah's governor and members of Congress already are working to see that the fort's 119 acres and 97 buildings go to the U.
Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said they plan to introduce legislation to hand over part or all of the Fort Douglas land to the U. It's unclear whether it would include Red Butte's water, which the city wants.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, said if the fort is closed, he too intends to do everything possible to ensure that the remaining facilities there are conveyed to the university for its management and use.
This is good news to university officials.
"It's an exciting opportunity for the university because the fort is located in a strategic area for the university's growth," said Dr. Cecil O. Samuelson,vice president for health sciences. "The fort is bounded on three sides by theuniversity and by the mountains on the other."
Samuelson said the Health Sciences Center has limited room to grow on the north side of the upper campus. Because of the center's expanded activities, space has been rented in Research Park and in the community.
Acquiring the fort property and buildings could benefit the U. in several ways, Peterson said. At least 10 of the larger buildings would be appropriate for office/instruction space, he said.
Several World War II barracks buildings now in use on campus are costly to maintain and heat. "I don't think we can keep them going more than two to four more years. Many of the fort buildings would be suitable to transfer the activities now housed in the old barracks buildings.'
Research Park, now two-thirds full, would "be fulfilled," he said. The park was established on land that originally was part of the fort.
A road from Research Park into the northern part of the campus Health Sciences Center area also would be opened to the university. It has been restricted to military uses in the past. The costs of building such a road - which would require crossing Red Butte Creek and relocating a power line - would have been in the millions, Peterson said.
University officials also see the potential for creating another graduate residence area on the fort property.
Both Peterson and Samuelson said the university would make a strong commitment to preserve the historical significance of the fort, protecting such features as the cemetery, museum, chapel, parade grounds and possibly the Officers Club.
Hatch also wants the 328th general hospital and 446th medical command retained.
"That would allow for some defrayment of maintenance costs if the land is transferred to the University of Utah, which I support," he said. "But the medical unit is important because it has a critical NATO mission; if something happens in NATO, we have a full reserve unit, general hospital and medical command that is capable of helping."
Garn said much of what used to be Fort Douglas - something like 75 percent - is already managed and operated by the U.
"We have always found the people at the fort and the federal government to be good neighbors; they've been helpful and cooperative," said Samuelson.