Congressional orders that close and realign military bases are cause for panic in some communities, but not in San Antonio, which calls itself "Military City, USA."
The fifth and latest round of the Base Realignment and Closure ordered by Congress in 2005 includes an estimated $2.1 billion in renovations and construction at Army and Air Force installations here. The projects are to be completed by 2011.
Nearly 5,000 military jobs will be moved to the city, which already enjoys a large Defense Department presence.
"BRAC has really been good thing for San Antonio," said Mayor Phil Hardberger, acknowledging that it has been "a thing of fear and loathing" for many communities.
The realignment will most affect Fort Sam Houston, a 131-year old garrison in the middle of San Antonio. The base, headquarters for the Army's medical command, will become the center for all Defense Department medical training and research.
The facility will also become the headquarters for the command that oversees Army post infrastructure worldwide.
Military officials were to break ground Friday on a new $92 million Battlefield Health and Trauma Center, which will combine research in all areas of battlefield medicine, from dentistry to plastic surgery to prosthetics. It is the largest project to date and starts a building boom expected to span the next couple of years.
‘Our one chance to get it right’
While officials add and renovate new buildings, they are working to plan and effectively zone the 2,900-acre post, said Col. Wendy Martinson, the garrison commander who is overseeing the massive project.
"This is our one chance to get it right," she said.
About 25,000 people work at Fort Sam Houston; that number will climb by nearly 11,000.
The growing military presence has city planners and government officials weighing such needs as road improvements and new schools. The new work force is expected to add about 9,000 children to area schools.
"There's a lot of moving parts," said Richard Perez, the president and chief executive of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
But no one in San Antonio is complaining.
Even without the added personnel, the nation's seventh largest city estimates that military personnel, retirees and civilian workers — and the businesses that follow them — pump more than $13 billion into the local economy. Nearly one in four jobs in San Antonio is linked to the Defense Department.
The city hasn't always benefited from BRAC.
In the 1995 round, Kelly Air Force Base on the southwest side of the city was shuttered. So when Congress made plans for another round a decade later, the city, county and chamber began lobbying to avoid another closure, Hardberger said.
"When they closed Kelly, it was kind of wake-up call to San Antonio," he said. "We started worrying about it."
The community's lobbying efforts paid off better than expected, local officials agree.