Transfer will make Fort Monroe whole

Dave Ress
Contact Reporterdress@dailypress.com

The Fort Monroe Authority's gift to the National Park Service of an area lying between park service-owned land around the fortress and the north beach area will create the unified national monument Gov. Terry McAuliffe has pushed for since 2014, his communications director said.

The transfer of beach and the grassy open space to the east of Fenwick Road should be completed shortly.

But federal officials, even after McAuliffe's lobbying efforts at the White House, did not want to accept a tract of state-owned land to the west of Fenwick, known as the West Wherry Quarter, where the now-shuttered post exchange and the city's community center are located, said Brian Coy, the governor's communications director.

"We would have liked to transfer the whole area, but this is a huge step," Coy said.

He said the governor did not intend to ask Washington to accept the West Wherry Quarter, since federal officials made clear that there were not interested in taking on the cost of razing buildings and maintaining the area as open space for a park.

Citizens groups have called for transferring the West Wherry Quarter, as well as the portion of land east of Fenwick Road, saying it is vital to define a sense of place. Mark Perreault, president of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, could not be reached immediately for comment.

The separate master plans of the authority and the city of Hampton envision development on the West Wherry Quarter, though they differ somewhat on the mix of residential and commercial use for the area.

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck said he feels the city's hopes that the West Wherry Quarter could be the site of tourism-oriented development, such as a hotel, would be a good fit with a soon-to-be unified national monument.

"We're satisfied," said Tuck.

At the urging on one citizen advocate for turning the whole of the West Wherry Quarter into park space, Tuck had joined the mayors of Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach in urging the governor to push for a unified park, which the mayors described as including all or most of the authority-owned land between the fortress and the north beach.

The West Wherry Quarter is one of several parts of the old Army base that the Fort Monroe Authority is planning to open for development.

The others are the marina, the long brick building on the parade ground inside the fortress, a group of a half dozen former Army Training and Doctrine Command offices directly across Ingalls Road from the old post office, several buildings in the historic village area between the fortress and the bridges connecting Fort Monroe to the rest of Hampton, and the North Gate area, between the fortress and Mill Creek, which is the second of the two pieces of land the Army has just turned over to the state.

The authority plans to begin testing developers' interest in the West Wherry Quarter and the other sites in about a year, after it finishes cleaning up environmental hazards and nails down a continuing source of funds to cover maintenance of common areas and public services to residents and businesses.

It is seeking out developers because its current $10 million-a-year budget, which includes $5 million of state funds, falls far short of the bills it faces to keep its unused but historic buildings from falling down.

Turning those buildings into housing or office space that would generate rent could cost as much as $100 million, the authority's deputy executive director, John Hutcheson has estimated.

Ress can be reached by phone at 757-247-4535.

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