The federal government announced Friday it will seek private bids for the restoration and reuse of Moffett Field’s Hangar One, giving fans of the Depression-era structure a reason to cheer.
The U.S. General Services Administration said in a “notice of intent” that it will issue a request for proposals this spring on behalf of the hangar’s custodian, NASA Ames Research Center.
“The proposed lease provides an opportunity for the private sector to collaborate with the Government to rehabilitate a structure whose rich history and distinctive architecture have made it an icon to the entire Silicon Valley region and to make better use of a government-owned asset,” the notice says.
Lenny Siegel, a member of the Save Hangar One Committee, was guardedly optimistic about the federal government’s plans.
“It is good news,” Siegel said in an email, “but it will still take a lot of work to get the hangar restored and reused.”
The future of Hangar One has been uncertain ever since toxins were discovered leaching from its panels in 2003. The Navy, which is responsible for cleaning up the site, at one point sparred with preservationists over its plans to raze the former home of the USS Macon airship.
The Navy ultimately decided to retain the hangar, but the resulting cleanup effort did not include funding for restoration or reuse. After the panels were removed last year, the steel frame was left exposed to the elements.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin as potential bidders. They previously offered to foot the estimated $33 million cost of restoring the hangar in exchange for permission to use part of it to store their planes.
NASA, which took over Moffett Field from the Navy in 1994, never responded to the proposal, and Blue City Holdings, a company that manages aircraft for the Google principals, has since signed on to be the primary tenant of a new $82 million facility at Mineta San Jose International Airport.
But Siegel said Page and Brin may need two sites and that their interest in Hangar One is more than economic.
“They understand the historic importance of the building,” Siegel said in a follow-up telephone interview.
The Air and Space West Educational Foundation has also proposed turning the hangar into a museum, Siegel said. But the organization, which was inspired by the structure, has yet to do any fundraising.
Obstacles still remain
Siegel expressed concerns that the process of turning the hangar over to a private party will be complicated and time-consuming, factors that could potentially turn off potential bidders.
As one example, he pointed to the liability issues that might arise if the new tenant damages a coating the Navy applied to the steel frame to seal in any lingering harmful chemicals.
“There are solutions, but they involve hiring lawyers,” Siegel said. “And that’s one more obstacle to getting the hangar covered.”
NASA Ames Research Center and the Navy, meanwhile, remain at odds over the adequacy of the cleanup, with the former saying in a letter Thursday that it will not take responsibility for several of the long-term management activities required to ensure the hangar is safe.
Change in direction
Those issues aside, the federal government’s plans represent a critical change in direction for Hangar One.
The notice of intent — which U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo’s office said resulted from a meeting Tuesday between her, the GSA, NASA and the White House — ensures Moffett Field won’t be sold as surplus government property, a course of action preferred by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden.
“This notice of intent embodies my consistent goals over several years to save Hangar One and to keep Moffett Federal Airfield as a local and Bay Area public safety and national security asset, and home to the (California Air National Guard) 129th Rescue Wing,” the Palo Alto-based congresswoman said in a statement.
“GSA and NASA will work closely with the local community to explain the RFP process and produce the desired outcomes. I will continue to work with the agencies and my communities to see this process through.”
Other changes could be in store for Moffett Field. NASA and the GSA want to eliminate the space agency’s operating and maintenance costs for the facility, according to the notice.
“While the primary objective is to facilitate the expeditious re-siding of Hangar One,” the notice says, “the Government will also consider proposals to manage the Moffett Federal Airfield.”