By Lydia Wheeler
Though the commonwealth hasn't officially been handed the keys to Fort Monroe, businesses are increasingly showing interest in the old Hampton Army post.
Divaris Real Estate Inc., the commercial leasing agent for Fort Monroe, announced four businesses have signed leases in the 565-acre National Historic Landmark District.
In December, Q-Design PLC, a Hampton Roads architecture firm, began leasing 918 square feet of office space on the second floor of Building 77, located at 3 Ruckman Road.
The Virginia Department of Veterans Services will share the building, occupying 3,745 square feet on the ground floor.
"It's really quite a beautiful historic village," said Ronald Quinn, who with wife Carrie owns Q-Design. "It has the most spectacular sunsets."
Needing more space, Quinn said they moved the firm from 133 Kings Way in downtown Hampton.
The Fort Monroe Authority, a political subdivision of the commonwealth, has hired Q-Design to do the renovation drawings for the new authority headquarters, which will be located in the old post office building.
Authority quarters are now in Old Quarters 1, at 151 Bernard Road, but Quinn said the National Park Service wants to own that building.
The fort, which was built to guard the channel between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads after the War of 1812, opened in 1819. The commonwealth agreed to give the property to Congress, as long as the deed said the property would be returned to the commonwealth if the military ever stopped using it as a base. Though the Army abandoned the post in September 2011, ownership of the property has not officially been transferred to the commonwealth. As a result, the Fort Monroe Authority must lease space from the Army and then sublet those properties to third parties.
To date, the authority has leased a total of 147,764 square feet of commercial space from the Army, of which approximately 85,000 square feet is leased to third-party tenants.
"The majority of the property will transfer sometime this year," said Glenn Oder, the authority's executive director.
Marine Systems Corp. recently signed on as a new tenant, leasing 6,130 square feet of office space at 96 Stilwell Drive, according to a news release issued by Divaris. The service-disabled, veteran-owned small business specializes in engineering, design, planning and maintenance programs that support the U.S. government and commercial clients.
The Virginia Department of Fire is another tenant, having leased 2,516 square feet in Building 268, located at 102 Pratt St.
Total, the Fort Monroe property has 1.2 million square feet of commercial space, said Joe Dos Reis, the authority's director of commercial real estate.
Some of the buildings on the property are already furnished, but since the authority is not the property owner, it does not have jurisdiction to discard unwanted items.
Quinn said he took down the 1980s-style valances hanging in the windows of Building 77. Though some of the decor will probably never be used by anyone again, he said, the authority has to catalog and store everything. Same goes for furniture. If left intact, Quinn said, it could be helpful to new businesses moving in.
As for residential space, Dos Reis said there are 176 homes on the property, a mix of single- and multifamily. Of the 165 to 170 units that are habitable, 40 to 45 are available.
"There are probably a dozen that are going to require a little bit of work to make them habitable," Oder said.
With 8 miles of waterfront, 3.2 miles of public beach on the Chesapeake Bay and a 332-slip marina, Fort Monroe, Oder said, is an area where people can live, work, play, learn and, with two churches on site, even worship together.
"If we haven't leased a property from the Army yet, we can get it," he said.