The Army closed Fort Devens, about an hour’s drive from Boston, in 1996. It closed Fort McClellan three years later. The unmistakable redevelopment differences that separate these two former military posts remain firmly in place. And the reasons are clear.
The main culprit: support, or lack of it.
Massachusetts politicians -- and the voters who elect them -- jump-started Devens’ redevelopment with $200 million of state funds used for demolition, environmental cleanup and construction. Alabama politicians didn’t do that when Anniston’s post closed.
There’s more to this story, for sure. But today, Devens, according to the editorial board of The Lowell (Mass.) Sun, “has become a business-friendly dynamo with more than 100 companies of all sizes operating within this self-contained community shared by the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley.” And who gets the credit? “The bold and prescient leadership of the state's economic-development arm,” the editors wrote earlier this year.
In a sense, it’s a miracle that McClellan is as far along as it is, given that the state never considered its redevelopment a priority and one of its redevelopment arms, the ill-fated Joint Powers Authority, died an unceremonious legal death a decade ago. Much of the property’s reclamation has occurred under the McClellan Development Authority, which replaced the JPA.
McClellan today is home to a private school, college and university satellite campuses, athletic complexes, assisted-living facilities, light industries and residential neighborhoods -- and Consolidated Publishing Co., which owns The Star. Roughly 3,000 people work at McClellan. But for all the success in cleaning up the Army’s leftover ordnance, issues like the imbroglio with a private security company over its use of the Starships barracks hinder the property’s future.
Back-and-force claims between the MDA and Xtreme Concepts revolve, in part, around accusations of late payments and dog excrement that is contaminating Cane Creek with E. coli. (The contractor trains security dogs.) The MDA has tried to evict Xtreme Concepts, but the contractor’s attorney says it still plans to buy the former barracks. Circuit Court Judge Debra Jones has ruled that Xtreme Concepts, which has rented the Starships since 2015, can stay on site until further notice.
In fairness, even Devens has weathered hiccups. A Gillette factory closed in 2010. A state-backed solar company left Devens in 2012. But MassDevelopment, Massachusetts’ economic development arm, has continued a fast-track permitting process that prevents developers from hopscotching from one agency to another for the necessary paperwork.
The Starships -- demolished or reused -- have always been one of McClellan’s redevelopment keys. Few other locations there own such a large footprint. And finding someone willing to monetize a labyrinth of concrete buildings has been one of McClellan’s enduring headaches.
We firmly believe problems like these would have been handled earlier, and perhaps with less legal angst, had our state treated McClellan as a priority for northeast Alabama. And we also believe it behooves the MDA and Xtreme Concepts to resolve their argument in a manner that protects Cane Creek and keeps the Starships active instead of empty and unused.