Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Very Long Process Indeed

In August I attended the Association of Defense Communities (ADC) annual conference in Monterey, California. Four weeks on the job, and you can imagine how over my head it felt to listen to the experts talk about successful projects, planned projects, lessons learned, and more acronyms than what should be legally allowed. (In fact, I’m recommending for next year they do a primer on acronyms before the conference starts.)

The one thing I heard all of these experts say is that redeveloping a military installation is a VERY LONG PROCESS. That made me feel a little better since the question I’m mostly asked is “Why isn’t anything happening out there at the Fort?”

There are 3 answers as I see it now that I've been on the job for ten weeks.

1. Community Leaders Change. Since the FHRA opened its doors in 1996, the Authority has had 6 directors, and the City of Lawrence has had 3 mayors. Not only that, the City Council has changed as has master planners and state government leaders. It’s no wonder that decisions once made became historical footnotes. The good thing is that each one of these directors, mayors, city councillors, and master planners laid the infrastructure for tremendous progress today.

2. The Economy Changes. The last market analysis was prepared in conjunction with the last master plan which was completed in 2006. Since that time, the residential market has significantly changed and gas prices are through the roof. While Indiana is somewhat insulated from the severity of the market down turn on the coasts, we might still wonder if anyone will take a chance on our project at this time. I am encouraged by the positive response of the many people with whom I've talked -- some of whom are very eager to become part of the Village development.

3. Things Take Longer Than Expected. Think about those home construction projects that take you to the hardware store so often that you truly get to know that “Ace is the place of the helpful hardware man.” Magnify those projects by 100 and you’ve got change orders, hidden surprises in Army dirt, questions that cause further research, and an overall reluctance to begin. The things is, the Lawrence Village at the Fort project is no different than the other military installation redevelopment projects across the country. Regardless of size and scope, these projects take time because of the nature of the work itself. All of the work that's been done to date has been necessary and certainly sets the stage for "dirt to be dug."

We’re taking baby steps toward progress. We've finally cleaned up the property by mowing the tall grass and taking care of the neglected areas. We've formed a Village Art Committee of local business owners and residents who have impressive experience in a wide variety of the arts. We've kicked off the Phase I Infrastructure project by beginning construction documents. Our goal is to have a contractor in place and ready for construction in March of 2009. The FHRA is working with the City of Lawrence to build a Lawrence Skate Park, which will be an awesome addition to the City.

I'll have more to report after this Friday's board meeting. It's my intention to keep the community informed of progress as it happens.

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