Video: What's next for bases?

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/13/2005 8:10:53 PM ET 2005-05-14T00:10:53

At the site of the old Pease Air Force Base, there's no longer a need to drown sorrows. This could be a model for the future. Redhook Ale Brewery and a valve maker are two of some 200 businesses located in this industrial park, which was once home to a wing of the Strategic Air Command and nearly 1,200 civilian jobs at its peak. 5,100 people work here now, contributing $414 million a year to the Portsmouth-area economy.

George Bald heads the development authority. He says this economic renaissance was achieved by forgetting the base's past and embracing its future.

“It was important for us to say if we're going to be telling people we're creating a world class business park, we've got to have that look,” says Bald. “We can't have the old, Air Force base look.”

The airstrip remains, but now there's everything from a drug manufacturer to hi-tech firms to technical schools. It’s a roadmap of public and private cooperation to survive a painful process.

But Pease was not an overnight success. It took 14 years to create this — a process experts say should go much quicker for the communities impacted by this latest round of base closings. They should have the benefit of history.

“These communities are going to be a lot smarter,” says Anthony Marken, the vice president of military installations with the consulting firm ML Strategies. “They're going to be a lot further along in the game than their predecessors.”

But it is environmental cleanup issues that are holding back other closed bases, like the Alameda Naval Station on San Francisco Bay. Though it doubles as a Hollywood set for movies like “Matrix Reloaded,” fewer than half the jobs lost here have been recovered, while the city and the Navy negotiate the cleanup.

“Planes were repaired and worked on and there were a lot of industrial uses out here that really make it a very contaminated property,” says Debbie Potter with the city of Alameda.

They are dealing with the problems of the past, to deliver the economic promise of the future.

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