|By Michael Buettner, The Progress-Index,
Petersburg, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 23, 2010 --FORT LEE -- With heavy equipment rumbling in the background and a high-rise stairway looming above, Army and civilian leaders gathered to celebrate the formal kickoff of one of the biggest construction projects ever in the Tri-Cities.
About 80 people assembled Friday morning on the edge of the 26-acre parcel on Mahone Avenue near the new Army Logistics University to see the formal groundbreaking for a long-awaited 1,000-room Army Lodging facility. Actual construction began several weeks ago on the 530,000-square-foot, $120 million military hotel, which is expected to open sometime in 2012.
William F. Moore, deputy to Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, the commanding general of Fort Lee and Combined Arms Support Command, said the seven-story building will help complete the "campus" of the Logistics University and other training facilities at Fort Lee. "What's a university without a dormitory?" he said. "This is an important piece in creating that total university."
Moore acknowledged that the lodging facility had sparked a serious debate in the Tri-Cities when the plan was formally unveiled in August 2009. Local businesses, led by hotel owners, worried that the big on-post facility would absorb all of the added travelers the post's BRAC expansion was expected to bring to the region.
The lodging facility "will take a little business" from off-post hotels, Moore said, but added that the post's expansion will still bring added business to the area's hotels.
Fort Lee Garrison Commander Col. Michael G. Morrow said the project demonstrates "the continuation of the Army's efforts to support Fort Lee and the Sustainment Center of Excellence."
With all of the major construction projects involved in Fort Lee's expansion under the Base Realignment and Closure Process, the post's "small-town feel is gone," Morrow noted. By the time the expansion is complete next year, he said, the on-post daily population will be more than 35,000.
Rich Gorman, chief operating officer of the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, which is in charge of the hotel project and operates Army Lodging facilities worldwide, said the new facility -- the Army's largest -- "will improve the quality of life for so many students and their families."
Gorman said quality of life in the military "is more important than ever." For example, he said, "It's a major contributor to soldier well-being and readiness." More importantly, however, "Soldiers are entitled to the same quality of life that is afforded to the society they defend with their lives."
Moore and Gorman both expressed the Army's appreciation for the support Fort Lee has received from the surrounding communities during its growth spurt and reiterated the post's commitment to continue to seek strong partnerships with its neighbors.
Construction of the new lodging facility originally was expected to start before the end of last year but was delayed after the controversy erupted. The construction contract was finally awarded in June to The Korte Co. of St. Louis, Mo., and Highland, Ill., which has built more than 500 projects for the military, including a number of other lodging facilities.
When completed, the hotel will employ about 275 people, pay about $6.4 million in annual wages and buy about $2.1 million a year in goods and services, much of it locally, according to Fort Lee officials.
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