ST. MARYS — The “for sale” sign isn’t up yet, but St. Marys officials are optimistic about attracting a buyer for a 220-acre tract they have on the market at the site of the city’s former municipal airport.
The airport, located about a mile from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, closed in July 2017 after prolonged negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Navy.
The Navy wanted the airport closed after it was considered a national security risk after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania because of its close proximity to Kings Bay, home port to a fleet of ballistic missile submarines.
St. Marys Mayor John Morrissey said about half of the 462-acre airport site will be for sale. The area closest to the entrance off Dandy Street running east to west off the main runway is the tract Morrisey said is on the market. The area between the runway and the Navy base will remain undeveloped.
Morrissey said the site is expected to attract the interest of residential, mixed use and commercial businesses because the land is some of the highest ground in the city, with no wetlands, available utilities and options for different entrances.
The site is also close to a marina already permitted at the site of the old Durango-Georgia Paper Co. The marina will be close enough for people to walk from the airport site to their boats, if it is developed with new homes, condos or apartments, he said.
There are no trees at the site since it had been an airport until recently, which gives developers a blank slate to work with, Morrissey said. It will also save them the trouble of clearing land before they can start building.
Whoever buys the tract will have a decision to make about the runways. Morrissey said they could be converted into a road and parking, or torn up. He said the material used for the runway is recyclable and can be sold.
“It’s prime for development,” he said. “We’d like mixed use, commercial, but we’re wide open. It could be anything.”
There are some restrictions, however.
The Navy has to approve any use for the airport property and has the right to deny anything that could endanger national security, which is the reason the airport was closed in the first place after 15 years of negotiations.
One restriction the Navy will have for certain is the height of structures built at the site. Nothing tall enough to view activities at Kings Bay will be allowed at the site.
Morrissey said it won’t take much to make the site shovel ready and doesn’t believe the Navy will have an objection to the bidder making the best offer for the site.
“This kind of a chance is once in a generation and after years of hard work,” he said. “The city is elated to provide this opportunity.”