HORSHAM According to a Navy report, the redevelopment of the former Willow Grove military base is expected to generate $928 million in construction costs, 10,000 jobs, and $15.6 million a year in new tax revenues for Horsham Township.
Construction on the base is expected to stretch over the next 20 years, but the first glimpses of change may begin in early 2015, when the Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) hopes to begin construction on some of the 1,486 planned residential units.
The authority hopes to break ground as soon as possible on 183 acres of single-family homes flanking the former air strip, which may be called Runway Boulevard.
"If that property was prepared today, the market study says it would be bought today. There's a market out there for it," said Dan Schnepf of Matrix Design Group, a consultant hired to draft the HLRA's Economic Development Conveyance plan.
The market study estimated that about 245 homes would sell each year - 1/2-acre lots for around $650,000, smaller lots for around $350,000.
In 2012, 191 single-family detached homes sold in Horsham for a median price of $315,000, according to Montgomery County Planning Commission data.
But before construction can begin, the Navy has to finalize its impact report, remediate a handful of contaminated sites, and sell the land to the HLRA. The HLRA then has to select a developer, or several developers, develop blueprints, and go through the township's usual zoning process.
Tom Ames, HLRA deputy director, said the authority probably can't afford to buy the land outright.
Instead, the board may pursue borrowing, profit-sharing or both.
At the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine, a local redevelopment agency paid $3 million up-front and will continue paying the Navy for 20 years or more, according to the Bangor Daily News.
At the South Weymouth Naval Air Station in Massachusetts, a developer gave the Navy $12 million, plus 5 percent of all land sales to home builders. The Navy estimated that profit-sharing to be worth $13 million, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011.
"Of course we'd like to say, 'Here's what we're willing to pay for the property,' " Ames said. "But the Navy probably has a different number."
Other hurdles also remain. For example, on the southwest portion of the base near Horsham Road, the Navy may have to remediate pollution at former landfills, rifle ranges and fire training sites. The HLRA hopes to build an office park, town center and golf course atop those areas.
And on the northeastern edge, bordering Easton Road, the Navy may have to do radiological surveys of former aircraft maintenance sites. There, the HLRA is planning to build a middle school, aircraft museum, retirement community, and retail stores.
Road improvements, water and sewer expansion projects, and other infrastructure requirements will also need to be addressed before any homes can sell.
Before its closure, the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove employed more than 2,500 full-time staff and 5,000 reservists with the Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Pennsylvania Air National Guard and Army Guard units, according to the Navy report.
Operations at the base ceased in 2011. A portion of the land was given to the Air National Guard, and is being used as a drone command center. But the remaining 862 acres have sat vacant for several years.
Progress is slated to move quickly now that the HLRA's conveyance plan is ready, and the Navy's draft Environmental Impact Statement is published.
Hearings on the Navy's study are scheduled for Jan. 13 and 14.
BY THE NUMBERS
acres for residential development
acres for entertainment
acres for offices
acres for school
acres for hotel/conference center
acres for retail
Source: Matrix Design Group Economic Development Conveyance presentation, Dec. 18, 2013
Off the Runway
Here is the tentative timeline for the redevelopment of the former Willow Grove military base:
Jan. 15: Horsham Land Redevelopment Authority (HLRA) submits Economic Development Conveyance application to Navy.
Jan.-March 2014: Public comment on Navy Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Spring 2014: HLRA interviews developers
Spring 2014: Navy records final EIS.
Summer 2014: Navy and HLRA negotiate land price.
After negotiations are complete, it will take at least four months to create deeds and go to settlement.
*Source: Matrix Design Group Economic Development Conveyance presentation, Dec. 18, 2013.