Mountain View Voice

News - May 13, 2011

Another roadblock for Hangar One?

Congressional agency scrutinizes $32.8 million request

by Daniel DeBolt

As if it won't be disheartening enough to see historic Hangar One reduced to a bare skeletal frame this year, NASA's Inspector General is questioning the merit of the $32.8 million request for new siding.

Save Hangar One Committee member Steve Williams spoke with Inspector General staff members Ridge Bowman and Jim Morrison on Friday as they sought community input for a soon to be released audit of NASA's $32.8 million request for replacement siding for Hangar One. The agency apparently has doubts about a project that has wide support in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, where residents raised the money to buy the land for Hangar One before it was constructed in 1932. Efforts to save the structure have been supported by every elected official in Sunnyvale and Mountain View.

"The IG's concern seemed to be whether NASA really has a justification to spend money to preserve the hangar for re-use," Williams reported on his blog Monday.

As with many federal projects, Hangar One's situation has become complicated.

"In particular, they are concerned that NASA doesn't have a "mission" for the hangar, and that because Congress has forbidden certain kinds of leases, it will be difficult to find a tenant," Williams wrote, paraphrasing Bowman and Morrison's comments.

Despite any challenges there may be in re-using the hangar, Bill Berry, co-chair of the Moffett Field Restoration Advisory Board, said putting on new siding "is the logical next step" once a Navy contractor removes the toxic siding from Hangar One and leaves a massive bare steel skeleton behind.

"Unless you can get the hangar re-covered its not going to be good for anything," Berry said. "It is going to sit there and rot unless it is recovered. It's absolutely silly to leave what is potentially an eyesore behind. That's the real waste."

In his blog post, Williams continued recounting his discussion with Inspector General staff. "I agreed that NASA may not have a 'direct mission' for the hangar, but NASA certainly does have a mandate to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, as do many current and future tenants of Moffett Field, and the hangar can be a huge asset in meeting that mandate."

Congress has to approve the $32.8 million for new siding, and Republicans, who control the House, already have said they want significant cuts in NASA's budget. Congress has already made Hangar One re-use difficult by imposing restrictions on how NASA can lease property, Berry said.

Berry is former president of University Associates, a consortium of colleges that aims to build a major Silicon Valley campus at Moffett. Berry said University Associates probably had the last lease deal with NASA that allows a developer to make improvements to NASA property and subtract those costs from their lease payments.

That means that "developing the hangar for anything but a government mission is going to be challenging," Berry said.

NASA Ames deputy director Deb Feng said in a statement that "A large airship would be the best use of Hangar One by a tenant." Many believe such an airship would be developed for the department of defense.

"With the re-emerging interest in the use of airships for both military and commercial application, the West Coast is an attractive location from many perspectives, ranging from proximity to airship technology companies to geographical location," Feng wrote.

Simply preserving the 200-foot tall example of 1930s streamline moderne architecture is enough for many preservationists. But many members of the Save Hangar One Committee are advocating for an air and space museum in partnership with The Smithsonian, something that would have a "strong attraction" for millions of people, Williams wrote.

While their proposed interior improvements will not be paid for, Hangar One's prospective "tenants will find plenty of incentive in the tax benefits of refurbishing and re-using the historic structure," Williams writes." I made sure to say several times that we're aware the tenant ultimately will have to invest far more private money to develop and enhance the property than the public money NASA might spend to re-skin it."

Berry estimates $50 million to $100 million in tenant improvements would have to be made to Hangar One's interior, depending on who would use it.

Feng explained that NASA took on the unusual responsibility of historic preservation at Moffett in 1994 when the Navy gave the property to NASA.

"When NASA took on the ownership of Moffett Field after the Navy's BRAC action was completed, an MOU was in place between the two organizations outlining the responsibilities of the parties with regard to the property," Feng said. "Generally speaking, the Navy is responsible for the clean up and remediation of the property and NASA has the responsibility for cultural resources, including historic preservation."

In response to concerns that NASA may not have a use for Hangar One, Brian Turner, an attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, pointed to the National Historic Preservation Act, which says "any Federal agency... shall, to the extent practicable, establish and implement alternatives for historic properties...that are not needed for current or projected agency purposes." The law adds that historic property can be leased to "any person or organization ... if the agency head determines that the lease or exchange will adequately ensure the preservation of the historic property."

The Save Hangar One Committee is urging people to [http://feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=ContactUs.EmailMe write California Senator Diane Feinstein] in support of Hangar One. Feinstein sits on the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

United States Senate

331 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20510

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

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