Mountain View Voice

News - February 19, 2010

Developer would restore, lease out Hangar One

by Daniel DeBolt

A major Emeryville-based real estate developer is proposing to restore Moffett Field's historic Hangar One, which — if the government allows it — could save the landmark building after its toxic siding is removed in November.

Eddie Orton, president of Orton Development, says he has a "realistic" plan to restore the NASA-owned hangar, which has sat vacant for years after toxic dust from its asbestos-laden siding was found inside.

"We are a really successful company and we don't need the money," Orton said. "We do honor that building. It deserves a certain respect from all of us. It is an extraordinary asset — we can either destroy it or we can use it."

Orton said he would not reveal the details of much of his restoration plan until he is allowed to bid on the project in a process open to other developers. But his proposal, made in a letter to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, the Navy and NASA, mentions an initial design allowing a "diversity" of uses inside the massive hangar, which has a floor the size of 10 football fields. It says those uses could include a museum, meeting rooms, offices, research and development, light industrial, a public venue and "mission-consistent government work."

Orton says his firm is in a position to attract tenants to ensure "long term profitability" of the project, and he said he already has interest from prospective tenants — "two very significant, very important clients." Orton's firm has done 62 redevelopment projects and has "500 tenants in over 50 states. We are constantly talking to the market," he said.

The proposal comes just weeks after Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called for a "content rich" reuse plan for Hangar One if Congress is to be asked to fund its restoration. NASA Ames says it would like to use the hangar for airship research for the Department of Defense, but has struggled to find funding. There is still no resolution in negotiations with the Navy and the White House Office of Management and Budget on a way to fund Hangar One's restoration.

The Navy announced last month that Amec Earth and Environmental had been contracted to remove the hangar's siding this November, leaving behind the hangar's massive skeletal frame structure. Every elected official in the area has opposed that plan. The sensible thing is to replace the siding as the old siding is removed, say community leaders from the city of Mountain View to the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board.

"You don't have to be a real estate wiz to understand that if you take the siding off a building, it doesn't do it any good," Orton said.

Bill Berry, president of University Associates LLC, which wants to build a major University of California campus and NASA Research Park next to the hangar, was supportive of Orton's proposal. "The difficult thing is the bureaucracy" of working with the government, he said.

Berry said he had been told by his own real estate consultants that Orton was a reputable developer who had done wonders for a historic Ford assembly plant building in Richmond, north of Oakland.

"It is part of the landscape," Berry said of Hangar One. "We have 1,930 housing units" planned for NASA Research Park, "and the quality of life here will in part depend on the quality of the view. A rusting skeleton is not going to be a great view."

Berry was recently elected to be the community co-chair of the Restoration Advisory Board. His predecessor in that position, Bob Moss, was more critical of Orton's proposal, singling out its mention of new "architecture" for Hangar One.

"That doesn't preserve it — that changes it," said Moss, who wants the original siding and windows to remain intact with the toxics sealed in by an EPA-approved coating.

The proposal mentions an architectural design that draws inspiration from around the world but also "augments the mission of the community" and "pays tribute to the historic structure." It says the developer will partner with Linda Ellis, a local architect who has proposed using a Teflon-fiberglass fabric to cover the hangar.

The Navy declined to comment for this story, and NASA Ames did not respond to inquiries. Eshoo was not immediately available for comment.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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