A $43 million deal between the overseers of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station and the Navy sets the stage for the entire base property to be transferred out of Navy hands.
For years, it’s been the missing piece of the puzzle in the redevelopment of the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station: the Navy’s ownership of the land.
But now that piece is in play as local officials have reached a $43 million agreement to transfer the entire 1,400-acre property out of the Navy’s hands.
The executive board of South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp., the public agency overseeing the redevelopment of the base, signed an agreement Monday night to purchase the remaining 835 acres of base land the Navy still owns and clean all contamination on the property.
“I think we’ve achieved something of great importance by this particular agreement,” said U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Quincy. “It really does in many ways represent the culmination of years and years of effort. I think the final result will be that this site will have a very positive impact not just on the communities directly implicated, but on the South Shore as a region.”
The deal calls for $32 million to be put into an escrow account and used to clean the base of contamination from years of military use. The remaining amount, roughly $11 million, is essentially the profit the Navy is making on the transfer.
Since the Navy closed the base in 1997, the question of who it would be transferred to has loomed, through a discarded plan to build a mega-mall on the property to the current plan to redevelop it into a mixed-use complex of homes and businesses called SouthField, by 2017.
The deal, which the Navy hasn’t signed but has agreed to in principle, opens the door for several things, including state bonds to help build a parkway through SouthField and lead developer LNR Property Corp.’s ability to market it to commercial developers.
Most of what LNR envisioned for SouthField, including 2,855 homes and 2 million feet of commercial space, was little more than a dream until the deal to transfer the entire base property was complete.
“Now you can with a straight face say that this thing is teed up and ready to go,” said Kevin Chase, LNR’s director of development.
State Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, said he has been waiting for the deal since the day the base closed.
“It truly is an historic vote,” Mariano said. “It is time now to get to work and get this project on the tax rolls.”
Mariano said the key holdup in Tri-Town and LNR’s negotiations with the Navy was agreeing on an estimate of how much it would cost to clean the property. Both sides were suspicious of the other’s numbers, Mariano said.
“It consequently resulted in a painstaking negotiation where every ‘i’ had to be dotted and every ‘t’ had to be crossed,” Mariano said. “When you lose that trust that you’re both working towards the same goal, it’s hard to replace and it takes time.”
Mariano credited Delahunt, as well as U.S. Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, with keeping the transfer of the Weymouth base on the Navy’s priority list.
Peter Forman, president of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said that with the Navy deal signed, LNR will have a much easier time selling commercial investors on SouthField’s promise.
“By committing more money, it just cements LNR’s involvement,” Forman said. “Any of the fears that people had that, because of the housing market or the economy, LNR might walk away I think go up in smoke after they put this kind of money on the table. They’re into it so deeply now that it guarantees they are a partner through completion.”
In addition to the Navy agreement, Tri-Town also Monday night approved a “development and disposition agreement” that lays out in detail how Tri-Town and LNR will work together to see the SouthField project through.
Jack Encarnacao may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.