Rumors of Fort Douglas' closure were greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
The venerable fort, built in 1862 to protect the Overland Stage, was earmarked for closure, according to the Pentagon's announcement on Jan. 5. But Friday afternoon, that turned out to be not quite true.The Fort Douglas Task Force, made up of Salt Lake City, state and federal officials, heard Major Gen. Richard Christiansen announce that the military intends to keep 65 of the fort's 119 acres, including some of the biggest and most valuable buildings.
A Defense Department team studying the closure will recommend to Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci that the U.S. Army Reserve retain ownership of the southern half of the base. A fence would be built around the lower parade grounds and 12 other buildings.
The base, probably to be called the Fort Douglas Armed Services Reserve Center, would still be the headquarters for the 96th Army Reserve Command and the military services' entrance and examination center. It would be fenced off from the part to be sold.
The upper part, marked for disposal, includes many venerable brick housing units on "Officers Circle," a parade ground overlooking Salt Lake City, a chapel and a military club.
The scaled-down fort would retain buildings for which a total of $5.4 million in improvements were recently made. Still, the military would keep more than 300,000 square feet of office and warehouse space.
Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis was surprised by the announcement that the entire post would not be closed.
"Maybe I misunderstood, but I thought that what was contemplated in the legislation was the closure of Fort Douglas," he said.
But Christiansen said the new plan would not involve a complete closure.
University of Utah President Chase Peterson, also a member of the task force, said that among the structures the military wants to keep are "lovely buildings and I suppose lots of people would like some of them."
He said he assumes Carlucci would be open to some give and take on it.
"You're absolutely right," Christiansen replied. "I'm sure the secretary will have a lot of input from a lot of sources." But he said the proposal was the final recommendation of a special Pentagon study committee that visited the fort.
Christiansen defended keeping part of the fort under the military control, by citing economic benefits. He said the cost of continuing to base the reserve unit on the post is about $600,000 in maintenance expenses, while it would cost $2.4 million to lease and maintain a similar amount of space for them in Salt Lake City.
Rather than bear that expense, he said, there would pressure to shift the headquarters of the 96th Army Reserve Command to Denver. The command covers seven western states.
Christiansen said Fort Douglas is a major contributor in the Salt Lake area economy. The total payroll is $23.7 million, including $8.8 million to reservists and $14.9 million to civilians.
In addition, the fort sponsors conferences that bring $404,000 to the area yearly for hotel rooms and other facilities. Maintenance costs are $576,000; facilities improvements, $6.4 million; local contracts, $2.1 million.
The fort's total economic impact is $33.2 million a year, he said.
The 96th Army Reserve Command is responsible for $9.1 million of that, according to information prepared by the fort.