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HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AP) -- Hill Air Force Base is on the cutting edge of Air Force development, taking advantage of a chance to trade economic development opportunity with the surrounding communities for updated buildings and workspace.
"Enhanced-use leasing" is a concept blessed by Congress that is slowly becoming reality within the Air Force, though it is something in which the Army is well-entrenched, swapping land for construction.
The plan is to use 650 acres of federal land on the west side of Hill as leverage to lure private developers -- first office space, then commercial development.
Instead of cash, the primary payment Hill is seeking is office space for some of its 23,000 employees.
"We have all this land. If we convert it to a higher and better use, make it available to private developers as merchantable land, we'll return some value," said Jim Sutton, director of plans and programs at Hill. "What I want back is just 1.3 million square feet of space, and I get it for nothing."
That "nothing" is the exchange for a 50-year lease on a section of the 650 acres. Sutton said he believes that once the partnership is established, it would mean a perpetual renewal of the office space.
Office buildings could be just the beginning of the development.
"One day you could see restaurants, dry cleaners, service providers," said Fred Kuhn, Air Force deputy assistant secretary over installations. "I think you'd see architects and such in the buildings, along with contractors and base employees.
"We would be very conscious about what we bring in," he said. "Like box stores -- I don't think we'd do that."
Kuhn believes the project is well on its way and could see construction next year.
Ideally, the initial tenants of the new buildings would be contractors who work with the base, already have security clearance and can create a more efficient and cooperative working environment through the move, Kuhn said.
Katie Halvorson, director of the Air Force Real Property Agency, which must authorize the development, said, "Hill is one of the ones leading the pack, one of our first models."
But one of the problems with being a model is cutting the trail.
Hill has been working on this idea for two years, through the process of approval and acceptance up the Air Force ranks.
Though Hill was the first to approach the Air Force with a plan, an enhanced-use leasing may be seen at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., before the year is out. It is not a comprehensive project like Hill's, but rather a single building with about 100,000 square feet and 8 acres. Kuhn anticipates signing it off in July.
Hill's project recently passed Washington's first hurdle for the first phase, gaining approval from the Executive Steering Group in charge of overseeing the enhanced-use leasing plans.
Hill is expected to go back to the officials in the fall.
Sutton said details of the development and who it will involve are still up in the air.
Utah State University has been working to be part of the development through the nonprofit Space Dynamics Lab Foundation. The foundation could work as a partner with Hill to deal with the details of developing, letting Hill concentrate on its military missions.
Or the base could partner with the state and let this project be part of the overall state economic development plan.
Kuhn said development rights will be determined through a competitive bid.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)