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San Diego Makes Case for New Army Technology Center

City Touts History as Military Service and Technology Hub
May 16, 2018
City leaders and other experts are betting that San Diego, home for decades to key Navy and Marine Corps facilities, stands a good shot at landing a new research-oriented command center planned by the U.S. Army.

Army officials informed the San Diego mayor’s office in mid-April that the city was on a short-list of 15 finalists now being considered to house the Army Futures Command, which has been called the most significant Army reorganization effort since 1973 and will focus on the technologies, force requirements and weapons to enhance the Army’s combat readiness for future conflicts.

The other city finalists are: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco and Seattle.

The Army has not announced a specific timetable for making a selection, but local officials said a final decision, or possibly another winnowing-down of candidates, could take place in June.

In its May 10 response to an Army request for more details from candidate cities, the city and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. proposed five general areas that could house an Army research facility or campus – downtown San Diego, Sorrento Mesa, Torrey Pines Mesa, Kearny Mesa and Mission Valley.

The Army has said it is looking to house about 500 people in a future command center, which real estate specialists said likely translates to between 100,000 and 200,000 square feet of existing space. No new development is currently planned by the Army.

The Army has not finalized exact size or space configurations for a Futures Command, including how much space would consist of laboratory / production facilities and how much would be devoted solely to administrative office uses, which ultimately would impact a final site choice.

“Your city appears to have a combination of talent, commercial and academic innovation, and quality of life that we are looking for in locating the command,” said Under Secretary of the U.S. Army Ryan D. McCarthy, in a letter sent to government leaders in San Diego and other finalist cities in mid-April.

San Diego has one of the world’s largest military concentrations, and the defense industry has long been the region’s biggest economic generator, currently responsible for about one in every five jobs in the local region.

Among several other Navy, Marine and Coast Guard facilities, San Diego is home to the headquarters of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), which supplies technologies to the U.S. Navy. According to a study by the San Diego Military Advisory Council, SPAWAR pumped $1.77 billion into the regional economy in 2014 alone.

“If the Army views a long history of collaboration with military personnel, a focus on commercializing military technologies and a highly-skilled workforce with security clearances as an asset, then San Diego has a competitive chance of becoming the new Army Futures Command headquarters,” said Jesse Gipe, senior manager of economic development at the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., who handles military-related matters.

Erik Caldwell, San Diego’s economic development director, said the city and economic group responded to the Army’s most recent request for more information, much in the same way that it would respond to a technology company or research institute’s query related to location decisions.

“We were not telling them where exactly to set up operations,” said Caldwell, noting the submitted locations represent different combinations of factors that the Army could consider depending on where final priorities take the command center project.

For instance, factors to be weighed will likely include access to highly-trained engineers and software developers, good quantities of creative office space, and access to transit, entertainment and other amenities needed to compete for the best workers.

Sorrento Mesa has a large technology infrastructure established by companies such as Qualcomm Inc., and Torrey Pines has a good amount of laboratory space used by life science companies that may be adaptable to other industries. Kearny Mesa has long been home to several defense contractors, such as Cubic Corp. and Northrop Grumman, and downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods have a long history with the military and a large contingent of technology startups.

Caldwell said the city’s May 10 submission to the Army was designed to address a trend of military innovation research moving away from military bases, to off-base campus sites where researchers can better take advantage of access to educated local talent, universities, research institutes and other resources.

“We’ve definitely been a Navy and Marine town for a long time, and it should be interesting to see what happens with the Army,” Caldwell said.

Mike Combs, research manager in the San Diego office of CBRE Group Inc., which was not formally involved in the submission process, said San Diego checks many boxes in numerous locations for a military-oriented center, but the Army will likely be weighing multiple factors before making a final site decision.

For example, for security purposes, the Army may require a self-contained, single-tenant situation, rather than co-tenancy with other types of users. On the other hand, it may need creative office spaces and related on-site amenities to bring in the best talent, giving a leg up to a location offering more of a multi-tenant set-up.

“It ultimately will come down to what they need in a specific location, and who they need to attract,” Combs said of the Army selection process.

Lou Hirsh, San Diego Market Reporter  CoStar Group   

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