NASA and the General Services Administration announced Feb. 10 that Google's Planetary Ventures, LLC has been selected for a long-term lease of Hangar One and the Moffett Federal Airfield. The subsidiary of Google has partnered with NASA in the past, and is set to build a 1.1 million-square-foot campus on another portion of Moffett.
The Google subsidiary proposes to use Hangar One for the "research, testing, assembly and development" of emerging technologies related to space, aviation, rovers and robotics, according to GSA's Jackeline Stewart. She adds that Moffett's large Hangars Two and Three "will be used for similar purposes."
Though lease negotiations remain to be completed, the announcement appears to mark the end of a long battle to preserve the historic 200-foot tall home of the U.S.S Macon, a landmark which the Navy had planned to tear down at one point, because of toxic lead, asbestos and PCBs in its frame paint and siding. It now sits as a bare skeletal frame in need of a massive siding job expected to cost more than $40 million.
"With GSA and NASA's announcement today, Hangar One has been saved and will be restored and rehabilitated, honoring its place in South Bay history and community identity," said Congresswoman Anna Eshoo in a statement. "Moffett Federal Airfield has and will continue to play a critical role as home to the 129th Rescue Wing" — the arm of the National Guard that conducts regular rescue missions in California as well as in war zones.
Google's Planetary Ventures will be required to "re-skin and protect Hangar One," according to GSA officials, and operate the federal airfield for limited aircraft use, with a requirement to take on the airfield's financial burden — a deficit once said by NASA to be over $7 million a year.
Google plans to construct a 90,000-square-foot building on the airfield, Stewart said. "Although not required by the RFP, Planetary Ventures, LLC proposal is to make that space available for a public benefit educational/museum/incubator use at no cost to the operator of that facility," she said in an email.
That could be a major benefit to the local community, said Lenny Siegel, a Save Hangar One Committee leader and board member for a group aiming to build an air and space museum in Hangar One, called the Earth, Air and Space West Educational Foundation.
With Google making plans for a total of nearly 1 million square feet of space in Hangars One, Two and Three, and maybe more on adjacent land, it could mean even more explosive Google job growth than the city was already bracing for, which in turn could mean higher demands on local highways and the city's already stretched housing supply, Siegel noted.
"There's an unquantified opportunity for economic growth," Siegel said. "If they do a deal with University Associates (a consortium of colleges that has leased adjacent NASA land for a stalled campus project), they may build housing. It's the kind of thing that needs an environmental study. We've talked about all the commuter traffic issues around Google and Google is aware. It's not like Google isn't trying to do anything about it. My hope is they won't try to put too much employment out there."
Google will also be required to upgrade the NASA golf course at the north end of the runways and rehabilitate the large, wooden World War II-era Hangars Two and Three on the northeast side of the airfield, according to the GSA.
The competitive bidding process that Google went through is seen as a response to criticisms from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and others that NASA displayed favoritism to Google in leasing Hangar 211 on Moffett Federal Airfield to Google's executives for their private jets — without allowing others bid on it.
"This result wasn't just from the alleged cozy relationship between Google and the White House," Siegel said of Google's winning bid for Moffett and Hangar One. "Google — for better or worse — has a lot of money, and can throw it around. The competitive result clears NASA Ames of any favoritism charges."
Though several organizations had expressed interest in leasing the entire airfield — including two groups looking to cater to the private space industry — only one other company paid the $500,000 to have their proposal considered, according to a Feb. 10 NASA memo. The unnamed second bidder is described as "a well-respected company with a record of successful projects" but made a proposal that fell short in meeting a "significant number of minimum requirements," with finances that would be "stretched" by restoration costs. On the other hand, Planetary Ventures exceeded all of NASA's requirements, proposed the "immediate re-siding of Hangar One," along with "significant rental payments" and had the financial guarantee of its parent company, Google.
The deal will apparently save taxpayers money that would have gone to operating the airfield, restoring Hangar One, and possibly operating the NASA golf course, which ran up a $184,000 deficit in 2013, according to NASA documents.
"The agreement announced today will benefit the American taxpayer and the community around Moffett," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a statement. "It will allow NASA to focus its resources on core missions, while protecting the federal need to use Moffett Field as a continued, limited-use airfield."
Siegel said concerns remain that the airfield could be opened up to new air traffic from private business jets, though a GSA press release refers to "maintaining the status quo" in regard to airfield use. Google executives now lease Moffett's Hangar 211 for a fleet of private aircraft, but their lease expires this summer. It is unclear whether the fleet would remain at Moffett.
As it prepares to enter lease negotiations requiring a $1.5 million payment, Google had little to say about its proposals except a brief statement: "We are delighted to move ahead in the selection process and we look forward to working with both GSA and NASA to preserve the heritage of Moffett Federal Airfield."