HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Nearly two years before the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg inactivates, officials offered a tour of Army property in Heidelberg Friday to city leaders who will help decide the future of the land.
For many of the more than 70 people from the Heidelberg city council, German media, chamber of commerce, recreation and environmental agencies, it was the first time they had ever visited an Army installation.
"Many may have been to Patrick Henry Village for past German-American Volksfests when it used to be easier before 9/11 to visit at least the housing areas," said USAG B-W Commander Col. Bryan DeCoster.
Heidelberg Lord Mayor Dr. Eckart Würzner requested the tour for the advisory board comprised of representatives from 32 groups with an interest in the development of the real estate the area will receive as a result of transformation.
"For us, this is a major part of what is to be in our future," Würzner said. "We were very happy to have the U.S. Army here in Heidelberg after the war. The decision to [close] was not an easy discussion but we have to accept it and look into the future," Würzner said.
Once a U.S. installation in Germany closes, BImA (Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben) takes control of the property as the agency responsible for turning it over to the host nation.
Pronounced beema, it is the German Federal Agency for Real Estate and it grants first choice to German federal agencies, second choice to German state level, then local cities and finally to private companies. With a portfolio of 300,000 hectares of land and more than 43,000 apartments, BImA is the largest property holder in Germany, according to its website www.infopark.com/2376292/bima.
"I'm impressed because it is so large," said councilwoman Margret Hommelhoff, whose reaction was mirrored by many of the participants. "We have never been here in these buildings."
The 4.5 hour tour took them through Patton Barracks, the Heidelberg Army Air Field, Patrick Henry Village, Mark Twain Village and Nachrichten Kaserne.
"It's important to visit to get an idea of the buildings and the area," said city councilwoman Dr. Annette Trabold. "It's difficult to get an impression from photographs," Trabold said. "We want to see the buildings so we can better imagine what's going on when we talk about it."
The city has also held open meetings for Heidelberg citizens to gather their ideas and opinions on how the land should be used. One idea is affordable housing for the young.
"[It's] a little village," said Trabold about Patrick Henry Village, which has the capacity to house 3,600. "This is a big chance to have an area and houses there," Trabold said. "We have students and families with young children who can't stay in Heidelberg because it's too expensive" to rent apartments.
Trabold said it's a challenge to formulate a restructuring plan for the area.
The garrison will continue to offer tours of the area so that planning can progress.
"Our relationship with you, our German friends and neighbors, is important to us. We'll continue to provide you with opportunities like this," DeCoster said.