Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Fort Monroe’s Future Looking Bright

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HAMPTON-The City of Hampton and The National Park Service continue to expand the amenities at Fort Monroe to make it a premier destination in the region for tourists and locals alike.

Leaders of Fort Monroe gave a 10-year status report on Thursday, June 16, during a “State of The Fort” event hosted by Fort Monroe in partnership with the Virginia Peninsula Chamber. The event, which also included walking tours of Fort Monroe’s attractions, was held at the Fort Monroe Theater. Roughly 400 community members registered for the free event to hear the update.

Portions of the former U.S. Army base have been turned over to Hampton and The National Park Service in phases following the base’s closure in 2011. The first environmental parcel was transferred in 2013, and the last was transferred in 2019. Fort Monroe is comprised of 565 acres along the Chesapeake Bay.

Nine speakers addressed the crowd on Fort Monroe’s past, present, and future. Fort Monroe, which is listed as a National Monument by the National Park Service, is “like the Grand Canyon,” said Glenn Oder, executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority.

Currently, there are a variety of ongoing projects intended to rejuvenate Fort Monroe. These include utility, road, and parking improvement projects; renovations to the entrance to the property; and commercial and residential preservation projects, including upgrades to the Fort Monroe Theater, the Stone Fortress, and various archeology projects.

One of the major overhauls to Fort Monroe will be a marina redevelopment project that is being implemented in phases. The first phase, which will include an outdoor event space and dining, is expected to be completed in 2024. The second part of the project, slated for a 2025 completion, involves improvements to the docks, an outdoor pool, and other amenities. Phase three, which will include a hotel on the water, will begin once the other two phases of the project are finished.

Another project that the Fort Monroe Authority is excited about is the construction of a new memorial honoring the first Africans who arrived in Virginia. The 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans was commemorated in 2019. Oder is hopeful that the new memorial will be ready in time to unveil in 2026, which is the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the nation.

“I hope the memorial will be as impactful for others as the Vietnam War memorial in DC was for me,” Oder said.

The Fort Monroe Authority is banking on Fort Monroe’s historic and cultural significance to drive visitors to the area. Local economic expert Dr. Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis & Policy at Old Dominion University, predicts Fort Monroe will become one of the major economic drivers in Hampton Roads as a result. Between now and 2027, he forecasts that Fort Monroe will have a cumulative economic impact of roughly $321 million and will most likely double its economic impact from the previous decade by the time the next 10-year report is presented.

“That doubling is the floor and not the ceiling,” Dragas said.

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