Navy Base Closure a Welcome Move in San Diego

In South Dakota, residents are jubilant that Ellsworth Air Force Base will remain open after a vote from an independent government panel. But in San Diego, residents are celebrating for a different reason — a naval base there is being closed.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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Unidentified Man #1: Good morning, everyone. The Base Closure and Realignment Commission hearing will come to order.

CHADWICK: The federal commission considering military base closings met again today and said that the Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota--that's the state's second-largest employer and the home to one of the nation's fleets of B-1 bombers--that Ellsworth will not be closed. The news is met with glee in South Dakota. In fact, in almost every case, news of a base being spared by the commission has been welcome news for residents of the base's hometown, but that is not the case in San Diego, where leaders are cheering the Navy's potential departure from one facility. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY reporting:

San Diego is home to one of the nation's biggest concentrations of military bases, and civic leaders hope to keep it that way. More than two years ago, business and political leaders began lobbying to keep local bases off the closure list, including Camp Pendleton, Miramar and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.

Unidentified Man #2: March!

Recruits: Move to the ...(unintelligible) foot. Slide to the (unintelligible).

HORSLEY: But when the base closing commission independently suggested closing the Navy's Broadway Complex in downtown San Diego, local leaders did not object. In fact, they welcome the idea of turning the bland 1920s office complex into something more valuable like high-rise hotels. The Broadway Complex sits on 16 acres of prime waterfront real estate just blocks from the downtown convention center. If the 1,100 Navy workers on the site could be relocated or maybe just squeezed into a smaller space, Erik Bruvold of the city's Economic Development Corporation says the parcel could be transformed into a new civic attraction.

Mr. ERIK BRUVOLD (Economic Development Corporation): Really to create something here in San Diego that we haven't had I'm not sure ever and that's really a bay front that the people of San Diego can really enjoy in a way to bring us, if you will, really back to the water.

HORSLEY: This week, the base closure commission voted tentatively to close the Broadway Complex in 2007 in hopes that deadline would encourage redevelopment deal in the meantime.

San Diego's willingness to trade this small military complex for something more valuable represents the exception in this community, not the rule. City leaders were dead set against closing the Miramar Marine Air Station, for example, even though the vast centrally located airfield might be worth more as a replacement for the city's tiny outdated civilian airport. Marney Cox is an economist with the regional planning agency SANDAG.

Mr. MARNEY COX (Economist, SANDAG): There's probably no better economist driver built in regions than airports. They are significant to the extent of four or five times greater value to the region here than what the military currently provides.

HORSLEY: San Diego's strategy towards base closings was shaped as much by culture as economics. As UC San Diego historian Abe Shragge notes, this region began cultivating the military as an economic engine more than a hundred years ago. And while the economy today is much more diverse than it once was, cultural ties to the military still run deep.

Mr. ABE SHRAGGE (Historian, UC San Diego): Don't discount the emotional side. It's important. People, as much as they might dislike the problems with the current airport or some of the problems that emanate from Miramar, the noise of the helicopters and the fighters and such, this is a part of our way of life here and people are not anxious to have that tampered with.

HORSLEY: The Broadway Complex, on the other hand, holds a much smaller place in the city's heart. So there at least civic leaders are willing to let economics carry the day. Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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