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It's a Good Year to Be Seeking Blimp Hangar

O.C. is looking for a tenant for one of the cavernous buildings on a closed base. Potential uses: movie lot, sports venue or museum.

May 10, 2003|Dan Weikel | Times Staff Writer

Available for unique public-private partnership: a 17-story fixer on 1,600 acres in the heart of dynamic Orange County. Once housed Navy dirigibles and Marine Corps helicopters. Site listed on National Register of Historic Places. Now home to generations of finches.

Owner seeking highly qualified, well-financed companies and organizations to develop for uses ranging from theater to cultural center, sporting facility or movie lot.

And so it was that Orange County officials on Friday began soliciting partners to help convert one of Tustin's giant military hangars to civilian use.

"Everyone has an idea, but no one has come up with a great one yet," said Michael W. Hentzen, leasing coordinator for the county's Harbors, Beaches and Parks division. "Preferably, we'd like something recreational."

The Navy, which vacated the base in 1999, is planning to transfer 84 acres and the facility's northern hangar to the county within a year. The rest of the property will go to Tustin, which is considering demolishing the southern hangar.

Both structures are 1,088 feet long, 178 feet high and 297 feet wide. Each has seven acres of floor space covered by an intricate wooden roof.

During World War II, they housed Navy blimps that patrolled the Southern California coast. From 1951 to 1999, the facility served as a Marine Corps helicopter base. At its peak, 3,000 troops and 144 aircraft were stationed there.

The hangars now are empty, the tarmac barren. Instead of Marines, inhabiting the grounds are hawks, finches, pigeons, ground squirrels and coyotes.

Hentzen said the county would like to lease its cavernous hangar to a reputable organization or company with a workable plan for it. Local government would play only a minor role in the project, he said.

County officials say the hangar has a variety of potential uses, including film and television production, stores, theatrical events, museums, concerts, sports and restaurants.

"Coming up with ideas is what the whole process is about," Hentzen said. "This is a different kind of facility. It could be hard to find a use for it."

So far, the county has been receptive to a proposal by the United Veterans Organization to turn the hangar into a military history museum. Last fall, the Orange County Board of Supervisors authorized the group to occupy two buildings near the hangar once the county assumes ownership.

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