Falcon Hill development picking up steam

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A commercial development open to the public has sprung up as part of the ballyhooed Falcon Hill development on Hill Air Force Base, the beginning of what officials say will be a bustling retail center on the west side of the base for years to come.

Starbucks, the ever-present American global coffee company chain based in Seattle, Washington, is the first retail company to lease space in the commercial retail portion of the Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park. The store opened in late May.

Starbucks calls its new Hill facility a “Military Family Store,” and it’s run primarily by veterans and military spouses. The company says it’s committed to hiring at least 10,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2018. The base store is run by Mike Campbell, a U.S. Navy veteran.

“I feel at home in my new store and we want to make service members and their families feel the same way,” Campbell said. “We’ll greet people in uniform by saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I remember how much those words meant to me when I was in the Navy.”

The Falcon Hill project is a 550-acre private development, built under an Air Force Enhanced Use Lease, and will feature over 2 million square feet of commercial space in its first phase, with additional phases planned. Hill officials say the development will bring additional jobs and revitalized infrastructure in and around Hill, including new buildings, roads and utilities.

David Williamsen, chief of the EUL Program Office at Hill, said the lease concept allows the base to convey land to other entities. The money the base makes from leasing out the land is put toward new office space and the demolition of some decrepit World War II-era buildings that have been used as overflow office space at Hill for years.

The project includes buildings owned by Hill, which are situated behind a security gate, and buildings that are owned by tenants and located outside of the gate and open to the general public.

“This land is underutilized,” Williamsen said. “Is it better as a field of sage brush, or is it better to have this revenue coming in to fund some of these projects we really need?”

The underlying land lease for commercial buildings off base is for 50 years, Williamsen said. At the end of that period, the Air Force can decide to either renew leases, keep the buildings, or demolish them and return the area to raw land.

The project is being completed by developer Sunset Ridge, through a development partnership between the Woodbury Corp. and Hunt Development. December 2014 marked the opening of a new 75,000-square-foot office building that houses military and civilian workers, as well as several defense contractors who had previously worked in the old World War II buildings. The building is occupied by the Air Force’s Nuclear Weapons Center’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Systems Directorate and some additional defense contractors.

The development has also seen the construction of the ICBM Prime Integration office building just inside the West Gate and a new 35,000-square-foot building for the 75th Security Forces Squadron. The base constructed a new West Gate and moved it further east to improve traffic safety on Interstate 15 and accommodate plans for the commercial portion of the development.

Williamsen said the Air Force wants to continue to build office space inside the security gate, but outside of it, there are pads available for restaurants and a hotel. Those facilities, like Starbucks, would be open to the public.

According to a Hill fact sheet on the development, 21,000 square feet is available for restaurant space, and the hotel, which would also serve as a conference center, would be five stories and have 200 rooms.

Walter Brock, a property manager at Woodbury, said the company is actively negotiating with potential tenants, but couldn’t disclose any other information on future projects.

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