The cost of restoring the dirigible hangar has passed from the United States Navy to NASA, and in a time of tight budgets, NASA officials are questioning the wisdom of spending almost $33 million to restore a building that has "no prospects for re-use for the foreseeable future and would require substantial additional investment to make it habitable."
But rather than sounding the death knell for the iconic structure, it could signal a new beginning with Hangar One, putting it in the hands of a community that is highly motivated to save it.
The 211-foot-tall Hangar One, with a footprint equal to 10 football fields, could bring thousands of visitors to the city and new revenue. It could be used as a convention hall or a major air and space museum, as "Smithsonian West" proponents suggest.
Coming up with almost $33 million is a tall order, but not necessarily impossible, even for a city of Mountain View's size. Remember that only two years ago, city officials were poised to invest $30 million on a long-sought-after hotel and convention center near Google in the Shoreline area. With the acquisition of Hangar One, the city could have a truly unique convention hall, certainly the only one in the world with such breathtakingly massive 1930s streamline moderne-style. Adding Hangar One to the special Shoreline tax district could help leverage the bond money to restore it. Just like Shoreline Amphitheatre, revenues from Hangar One uses could help fund city services, which have been cut back significantly in recent years.
City ownership could be the hangar's saving grace because the city could manage Hangar One free of federal constraints that make its re-use difficult. Federal laws say NASA must charge market rate rents and cannot credit tenant improvements toward future lease payments. The city can and has enticed tenants to lease city property by subsidizing tenants improvements to city buildings, such as the 1887 replica train depot.
It should be mentioned that the move could become something larger than Hangar One. In making the land under Hangar One a contiguous piece of the city, it may also be the right time for Mountain View to take on the largely vacant southwestern corner of Moffett Field, as city officials have discussed for years. The NASA Research Park planned for this 75-acre area is on hold because of the possibility of holding World Expo 2020 at Moffett.
The NRP plan has all the earmarks of a real community: the future home of a University of California campus, private research and development space, hundreds of homes, restaurants and shops. It is the sort of place that a city — not a space agency — would have expertise in governing and servicing. And it is appropriate that the affairs of such a community be discussed and decided in the open at City Hall, not in the closed conference rooms of NASA Ames.
Of course, it would be important to determine whether new property taxes and other revenues would out-pace the cost of delivering expanded city services at Moffett. We have no doubt that city officials would thoroughly vet the financial implications before coming to a decision. But it is a tantalizing prospect, and one we hope will be given serious consideration.
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