BRAC: McClellan Loses 'Fort,' Gains 18,000-acre Community
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ANNISTON, Ala., Aug. 23, 2005 In 1995, the Army's Fort McClellan here was a bustling military installation that provided numerous civilian jobs and business for the surrounding community.
Buckner Circle at McClellan is a group of officers quarters that have been renovated and sold to private owners as part of the redevelopment of the former Fort McClellan, Ala. Other housing at the former base has also been redeveloped for sale and rental. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today the former post, closed in May 1999 by 1995 Base Realignment and Closure actions, is an 18,000-acre master-planned community.
When Fort McClellan was named in BRAC 1995, residents here feared the worst -- that Anniston, right outside the base, would cease to exist. But thanks to proper handling, BRAC proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Before closing, the fort was home to the Army's Chemical and Military Police schools, a training brigade, and the Defense Department's Polygraph Institute. The Army schools and training brigade relocated to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and has since integrated with the Engineer School there to form the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center. The Polygraph Institute relocated to Fort Jackson, S.C.
According to Robert Downing, Calhoun County commissioner and a founder of the McClellan Joint Powers Authority that's in charge of redeveloping the former fort, the area is thriving. Now McClellan, the formal name the new community took, now hosts a little of everything. It includes residential areas, a private school, industrial businesses, a thoroughfare that will ease travel in the area, and even a wildlife refuge.
And officials claim a healthy-sized workforce employed by new tenants on the former fort property. "There are more people, more civilians, working at (what was) Fort McClellan now than there were when it was a military base," Downing said.
The area has economically rebounded too, according to Sherri Sumners, Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce president.
Sales tax revenue did fall when the residents of Fort McClellan moved out and the installation officially closed. But that has turned around, she said. "Anniston (was) hardest hit, of course," Sumners said, but added that those sales-tax revenues are above "pre-shut down levels."
She said Lenlock, another Anniston community just outside of the former base's main entrance, was hit hard. "The smaller (the businesses) were, the harder they were hit. But if you go out there now, you'll see that the store fronts are filled again."
Kee's Tailor Shop, a Lenlock dry cleaners, can attest to that. In it's pre-closure life, the family-owned business catered to a military clientele. Now about 40 uniforms from guardsmen and reservists still at the former base come in daily, said Duane Lewis, whose family bought the shop in 2000.
"We knew the (previous) owners, and they did probably double that," Lewis said. "They could get up to 100 a day, (and) 80 was a regular day. Another businessman, H. Brandt Ayers, chairman and publisher of Consolidated Publishing Co., the first new facility on the former base property, remembered the dip in the community's morale at the announcement of the closure.
"There was a slump, both psychologically and economically," he said. "We felt it. We lost at least 300 subscriptions (to The Anniston Star newspaper) permanently."
But local leaders quickly realized that Anniston had just been granted an "extraordinary asset," as Ayers described it.
City officials found ways financially to support the new, expansive community with basic services, and have made other strides.
For example, McClellan became the Alabama Symphony's summer home, a move to further develop an arts community. In fact, the musical group set up shop in the historic warehouse area that formerly housed the Army's horse stables.
"If you establish a strong arts and culture community there in that center historic area, then everything else around it becomes a higher use," Downing said. "You're going to attract more businesses ... of a higher nature because you have a very strong arts identity."
McClellan has also proven itself to be a desirable address for residents as well. Existing military housing, both officers and enlisted quarters, has been renovated and offered for sale or rent.
Eastern Parkway will eventually connect U.S. 20 from Anniston's southern neighbor, Oxford, with the northern end of the city. The parkway will run through the center of McClellan and will ease traffic through both cities.
And if Ayers sees his dream come to fruition, McClellan will one day be part of a research triangle similar to the one that exists in North Carolina around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
"With all of this (existing) infrastructure, with all of this acreage (and) here we are on I-20, right in the middle between two clusters of research universities, it strikes me as a good possibility that we could turn this into a first-class research center," Ayers said, citing research opportunities in the automotive, defense and homeland-security industries.
To the east is Auburn (Ala.) University; to the west is the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, each about two hours away from Anniston. There's also Jacksonville State University, about 10 minutes away.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which distributes funds provided by Congress and state legislature, has requested a proposal for the research triangle. The impact of such a venture would be significant, he said.
"It's jobs," Ayers said. "It has a definite economic meaning to both northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia. "But further than that, if it does develop, it brings in a cadre of people who think in a different framework. There's a social payday that changes the character of the whole leadership cadre of a community; that lifts it up."
Downing said though, that the road to this point hasn't necessarily been an easy one. Simply trying to figure out what government should be able to annex the land and who should have jurisdiction was a struggle.
There was anxiety about Anniston even annexing the property. Calhoun County, however, has no home-rule authority, so it couldn't even pass laws that would raise revenue to support the new community. It was clear another answer was needed.
The county commission's creation, the Joint Powers Authority, was the answer, Downing said. The JPA oversees how the property is sold or donated. The city of Anniston has zoning authority, and has annexed the fort's property. Getting to that juncture caused some tensions among local governments. "It was painful, in a sense, to go through the political divisiveness that surrounded the jurisdiction issue," he said. "You come out of those things stronger and everyone realizes ... you only have one opportunity to redevelop this fort and we want to do something that ... will be lasting for future generations."
The JPA hired a planner to help them create a forward-looking and -thinking plan, Downing said. He also offered a measure of learned wisdom for those who may face the same circumstances that Anniston has faced and overcome.
"Be inclusive. Be broad based and have thick skin," Downing offered. "And always bear in mind that what you're doing has greater impact on future generations than it does on us. So you have a very keen responsibility I think in that regard."
Sumners agreed, pointing out that patience is key to a successful redevelopment. "Don't be so eager to re-use that you don't really look at the full potential of what you have," she said. "It's better to invest a little time in planning to determine what's going to be a good fit and what isn't."
And just because a military installation closes doesn't mean a complete severing of ties to its former host community.
The Center for Domestic Preparedness has called McClellan home since June 1998. The CDP is the only all-hazards training center in the country: It offers first responders training on chemical, ordnance, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Originally under the control of the Department of Justice, the center officially became part of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003. The CDP is the DHS' only federally chartered WMD training center.