Leader Blues

Friday, November 07, 2008

TOP STORY > >Base housing work back on track

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Nearly 18 months after American Eagle Communities abandoned its housing-privatization contract at Little Rock Air Force Base and three other military installations, a pair of proven military-housing contractors have purchased it from American Eagle for an undisclosed amount of money, and work should resume in the spring.

Hunt Development Group of El Paso, Texas, and Pinnacle AMS Development Company LLC of Irvine, Calif., are the two principals in HP Communities LLC, the new owner. (Base opens dining facility, p. 4A.)

Their contract reduces the number of housing units from about 1,200 to 1,000, and also cuts from 468 to 150 the number of new houses to be built, according to Col. James Johnson, vice commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The balance will be remodeled.

“This is about quality of life,” Johnson said.

HP Communities will build or remodel and own the homes for 50 years, managing them, doing maintenance and collecting and keeping the rents, according to Paula Baker, a Pinnacle investment manager who was already at the site on Little Rock Air Force Base on Friday.

“We are going to take care of these people who have gotten the short end of the stick for a while,” she said. “We think military families deserve to be taken care of.”

“We’re doing strategic planning,” she said. “This is day three — the deal closed on the fifth. We’re seeing maintenance orders and taking care of people,” she said.

The four contracts were bundled together, and HP Communities purchased all four, which should total about 2,600 homes.

Hunt and Pinnacle together and separately have successfully worked on several military construction housing-privatization projects, Baker said.

“Hunt has built more milcon housing than anyone else,” she said, adding that construction and remodeling would begin this spring and the job is expected to take about three years to complete.

American Eagle was two years behind schedule just three years into the contract, base commander Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz Jr. said of American Eagle last winter.

By the time American Eagle should have completed 125 new houses, there were only 25 and about 70 poured concrete slabs.

“It’s very frustrating how long it has taken,” Cong. Vic Snyder of Little Rock said Friday. Snyder, chairman of the House Armed Services Oversight Committee, said the Air Force needs to monitor such projects more closely in the future.

Senators Mark Pryor of Arkan-sas and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia have focused attention on the problems caused by American Eagle and have proposed legislation calling for closer oversight of such privatization contracts.

“After meeting with countless Air Force officials, business owners and developers to uncover the flaws in the housing-privatization process, I moved two pieces of legislation into law to fix and prevent the problems from reoccurring,” Pryor said.

“Now, I believe we have established the right oversight and accountability measures in place to ensure military families finally receive the housing they deserve and that we prevent taxpayer waste.”

“I’m pleased this contract has been finalized, and I expect HP Communities LLC to move full speed ahead on this project,” Pryor said. “Our men and women in uniform and their families have waited too long already.”

American Eagle, which was a partnership between Cara-betta Enterprises and Shaw Infrastructures, failed similarly to fulfill its contracts at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, Patrick Air Force Base in Florida and Hanscom Air Force Base in Maryland.

Contractors and suppliers were left holding the bag for millions of dollars.