It's a relief to see some movement, after officials spent more than a year sitting on a proposal from the founders of Google, who through their private plane fleet operator H211 LLC offered to pay over $30 million to restore the iconic structure in exchange for a long-term lease.
The prospect of Mountain View's landmark, currently reduced to a bare metal frame, resuming a useful life is a good sign. Whether a restored Hangar One on a renamed Moffett Field will end up as a billboard for some deep-pocketed lease-holder is another story.
While giving away naming rights must certainly give preservationists pause, there is some indication that community concerns were considered in the RFP. The document makes clear that the Moffett airfield would not be open to cargo flights, which should be a relief to the residents that soundly came out again such a use when it was proposed in the 1990s. Allowing its use as an airport for private jets might be the only way to make the expensive proposition of running the airfields and restoring Hangar One a viable financial decision. NASA officials have complained that the airfield, currently in limited use by the likes of the Air National Guard, Google and NASA, is a money-loser.
One key element that's missing from the lengthy request for proposals is the need for a public benefit. Moffett Field exists because the neighboring community worked together to create it. After a campaign to bring the Naval Air Station to the area, in 1931 the city of Sunnyvale bought 1,000 acres of land with money raised by residents of Mountain View and the rest of Santa Clara County and sold it to the United States government for $1 to create Moffett Field. Residents of Mountain View and other nearby cities have fought for years to save Hangar One from demolition and deserve to enjoy it once it is restored.
This history should be honored by allowing the public to give input on the bids, and by requiring some public use. As one of the largest freestanding structures in the world, Hangar One has plenty of space for both private aircraft and a proposed Air and Space museum. There could be room for a public event space, and to return the Moffett Field history museum to its original home in Hangar One.
It's a hopeful sign that H211's Ken Ambrose had expressed interest in the past in sharing Hangar One with a museum, although it's unclear whether H211 will be among the bidders. When reviewing the bids to lease Hangar One, we hope NASA officials bear in mind the importance of honoring Moffett's long connection with the community and preserving its historic legacy for future generations.
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