HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Construction on the long-awaited Falcon Hill project is set to begin today, but the largest enhanced-use lease venture in Air Force history spent more than two years on the ground as the Air Force restructured its nuclear mission.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the project took place at Hill in October 2008, but little ground was broken afterward, as officials tried to seal the deal with Northrop Grumman to serve as the development's anchor tenant.
A government official close to the project, who did not want to be identified, said dealings "caught a snag" after it came to light that Hill was involved in a nuclear weapons shipping mishap.
A few months before Falcon Hill was scheduled to break ground in 2008, Hill mistakenly sent nuclear missile parts to Taiwan. The mistake prompted the Air Force to order a worldwide overhaul of all its nuclear-related materials and processes.
Because Northrop is the prime Air Force contractor for intercontinental ballistic missile support and employees at the new building will work closely with the 526th ICBM Systems Group at Hill, the Air Force wanted the building within walking distance of the 526th's facility.
To solve the problem, officials decided to put the Northrop building inside Hill's security gate, in close proximity to the ICBM unit. A new gatehouse near the west gate will be built, and the gate itself will be moved farther west to accommodate the new building.
In September, an agreement was finally reached with Northrop and the project's private developer, Sunset Ridge Development Partners LLC, clearing the way for construction to begin.
"(The building's location) puts them in close proximity with their government counterparts," said Darrin Wray, chief of the Enhanced Use Lease Office at Hill. "That's the whole purpose, to put them close to each other and create more synergy in the working environment."
State Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Davis County, said all other nongovernment buildings as part of the project are likely to be located outside of the security gate. Davis serves as chairman of the Military Installation Development Authority, the group that facilitates negotiations between private developers and the Air Force.
"Generally speaking, the EUL will be outside of the gate," Adams said. "But Northrop will be behind the gate because of the types of classified information they have."
Wray said the Northrop building will take approximately 15 months to be completed.
The $1.5 billion public- private venture calls for Sunset Ridge to finance, build and maintain 8 million square feet of office space and supporting restaurants and hotels on 550 acres on Hill's west side.
In return, Hill will receive 1.6 million square feet of office space at no cost for Air Force projects. The remainder will be leased out to government agencies, defense contractors and other private agencies.