Sale of Fort Douglas, slated for closure by the U.S. Defense Department, won't be a "dollar giveaway," but transfer of the fort could be a good deal for all, a Defense Department official said at a task force meeting Monday.
The Fort Douglas Task Force, with chairmanship shared by Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis and members of Utah's congressional delegation, convened Monday to determine a use for the historic fort after its closure, possibly beginning in 1990."Fort Douglas has enormous implications, obviously, for the (Salt Lake) valley . . . that go beyond whether the wagon trains can go through," said Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. The fort was, in part, built to protect wagon trains.
Owens is making an effort to secure the fort, should Congress decide beginning in March to close the 119-acre base with 85 other military installations and put it to a use agreed upon in a public hearing process.
DePaulis said the University of Utah would be an appropriate benefactor of the land, but he and Owens say they want to measure the pulse of the community to determine its best use. They will schedule a public hearing soon.
But the task force should bear in mind the base won't be sold for one dollar as the Defense Department has done in the past, virtually giving away a Maryland base to a nearby community, a defense official said.
Robert Rauner, economic adjustment director for the Defense Department and a task force member, told the group Defense Secretary John Tower is in charge of the facility and "is not looking at this as a dollar giveaway."
Current Defense Department philosophy dictates that the department must achieve a net savings from base sales by no longer having to operate the facilities and selling the surplus land for profit, he said.
Rauner declined to estimate the value of the fort and its 112 buildings, some of which are national historic sites and some of which will be retained by the Defense Department for use by a reserve unit now at the fort.
But Eldon Haacke, a land specialist for Coldwell Banker, estimated the land is currently valued at roughly $100,000 an acre, a figure based on the assumption the land were to be used as office-related space by the U.
However, Monte Ferry, of the Army Corp of Engineers, said that previous recipients of former Army base land were given discounts of up to 100 percent based on the percentage of land to be used for, as an example, educational purposes.
"We would like to be in a situation where everyone gains something," Ferry said.
Owens said he was not surprised the federal government wasn't expecting to give the land away, adding, "My assumption is we can accomplish it (the land transfer)...without having to pay anywhere near value," he said.
Under the Federal Property and General Services Act, any Fort Douglas surplus land must first be offered to the Defense Department, then other federal agencies and finally state and local communities, Ferry said.
Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has rights of public domain over the fort, Ferry said. "They have a right to reclaim it," he said.
If a consensus for sale of the land between the task force and the Departmentof Defense can be reached, the transfer can be done via an administrative agreement with the Defense Department, Owens said.
If not, legislation would likely have to be introduced to affect the transfer, he said.
The city is most concerned about recapturing its water rights to the fort, taken away when the area became a military base, DePaulis said. Other possible uses for the base could include an Olympic Village, should the city win a bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Congress has 45 days to approve the base closures beginning March 1 and they must approve all or none of the closures. Base closures would begin in 1990 and must be completed by 1995, for a 20-year savings of $5.6 billion.