Southern Command Looking to Upgrade Facilities, Rein in Costs
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, Nov. 28, 2005 U.S. Southern Command has outgrown its leased complex of buildings in northern Miami, and the command's leaders are working on a solution, officials here said in a series of interviews.
When the command moved here from Panama in 1997, the organization took out a 10-year lease for the existing complex on commercial property. That lease currently costs the government $6.8 million a year, a figure expected to rise to $14.5 million a year by 2008, Army Lt. Col. James Marshall, SOUTHCOM deputy public affairs officer, said.
The state of Florida may have the solution. State officials have offered to build a headquarters complex on 40 acres of state-owned land adjacent to the current SOUTHCOM headquarters and lease it to the federal government at a dramatically lower rate than the current arrangement costs, officials said.
"The offer is 'build-to-suit,'" Marshall said. "They will build the headquarters and lease it back to us."
Commercial property values in Miami are soaring, and leasing from the state will save the government a significant amount of money.
Aside from being more cost-efficient, a new headquarters complex will improve quality of life for the organization's 1,200 assigned personnel. Throughout the headquarters, offices are crammed with people. SOUTHCOM Deputy Commander Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Mentemeyer noted that in some cases three servicemembers share cubicles intended for one workspace. In other sections, staff officers "hot seat" in workstations, meaning two individuals share one work area by working at different times.
"Our enlisted force is pretty satisfied except for the workspace," Mentemeyer told Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, the new senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when Gainey visited the headquarters Nov. 21.
"We need a quality facility for those folks to work from," Mentemeyer said.
Gainey said he would speak to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, JCS chairman, about the issue and ensure Pace understood the command's concerns.
The concept for the new facility has been approved by the Army, which is responsible for supporting Southern Command, but must still garner Defense Department and congressional approval before plans can be drawn up. However, SOUTHCOM officials are working with state officials on possible scenarios.
One potential plan calls for the headquarters' existing nine buildings to be consolidated into three and joined by covered walkways. The new facility would have a commissary and exchange, which are lacking in the existing headquarters, a conferencing facility, a garrison headquarters, and a more effective security perimeter. Staff parking would be inside the security perimeter with a visitor lot outside the secure zone, Marshall explained.
Mentemeyer said it's important for Southern Command, with operational responsibility for all of Central and South America and the Caribbean, to remain in Miami because the city is often called the "capital of Latin America." For instance, individuals flying from one Central American country to another often have to fly through Miami. Many Latin American countries maintain consulates in the city, as well.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Balch, SOUTHCOM's senior enlisted advisor, said he believes Florida is offering to help because state leaders understand that it's good for the state to keep defense assets and that Gov. Jeb Bush puts a high priority on supporting defense facilities. Through the "Florida Defense Alliance," Bush meets with leaders of defense facilities twice a year to discuss areas of mutual concern.
"Florida appreciates that defense-related spending is directly or indirectly responsible for $44 billion, or 9.8 percent, of Florida's gross state product," officials noted on a state Web site. "The mission of the alliance is to promote base efficiencies and to further military missions in this state."