Marina, CA – Fort Ord closed in 1994. Today the former Army base is a mix of the present and past. Just off highway one in Marina, a busy shopping center sits across the street from uniform rows of largely abandoned wooden Army buildings. "If the City of Marina and the developer for the Dunes on Monterey Bay Project are lucky there will be a hotel complex here," said Michael Houlemard, Executive Officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA).
FORA's job is to restore all that was lost when the base closed. That includes things like housing, jobs and environmental protection. Much of the 28,000 acres will remain open space. "So this is a replacement effort, this is not a growth project this is a replacement of what was already here," said Houlemard.
After Fort Ord closed the conversion to civilian use started. CSU Monterey Bay opened. Former military homes were refurbished and new homes went up, and a State Park opened on the coast. But in recent years, Houlemard says redevelopment has slowed. "The economy has changed so dramatically in the last five years. We went from our development community predicting we would have 3000 housing units built between 2008 and 2012, now we've have zero housing units developed in that same time frame," said Houlemard.
Several entities have a piece of the former fort including Seaside, Monterey County, and Del Rey Oaks. The City of Marina has one of the largest stakes. It acquired 3,300 acres of land. That doubles the size of the town. Marina has four major developments that have gone through the approval process, but stalled when the economy tanked. "I mean the strategy hasn't changed, but it's just delayed, big time," said Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado.
The lack of development has ripple effects. Much of the area slated for development is surrounded by fences, effectively cutting off some roads from the community. "So the one thing we lose is kind of the integrity of having a community that's connected. We have this island over here that the kids can't walk to school they can't bike to school," said Mayor Delgado.
There's also a financial impact. No new houses mean the school district cannot collect developer fees, which would help build a new high school. Marina High School is in a former elementary school. It was supposed to be a temporary location. Principal John Schilling says the nontraditional space poses challenges. For example with limited sports facilities, home games for some of its teams are played out of town. "But we have made the best of what we can with the facilities that we have," said Principal Schilling.
What's next for the former fort may be making the best of what is happening. That's where part two of this story picks up.