Though Plattsburgh will always cherish its Air Force past, the community can be proud of replacement efforts that have reached fulfilling heights.
A week ago today, a small group of officials and residents got together at a building that once housed the Plattsburgh Air Force Base flight simulator to formally accept the final 732 acres of land from military ownership.
It was a symbolic gesture, since the land had already been transferred. But as symbols go, this was a big one.
The Air Force had maintained a high-profile presence in the community for 40 years. Troops stationed here had helped protect our nation through World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War.
Anyone who grew up around here has vivid memories of the Air Base: tankers and cargo planes dotting the wide expanse of runway, jets whooshing overhead, testimonial dinners where officers in dress uniform mingled with community supporters, fireworks viewed by thousands of people perched on blankets at the Oval, the Santa perched on the plane for the holidays, the excitement of the air shows.
Base personnel — 4,400 at its height — spent a great deal of money at local stores, restaurants, car dealerships and bars. The Air Force would periodically put out reports on PAFB’s economic impact, claiming to insert about $150 million a year into the local economy. Even if that was a little overblown, as those reports with multiplier figures can be, the impact was substantial.
And it wasn’t all financial. Some of the military personnel volunteered with local service organizations. They wooed local women and men, and some of those relationships resulted in marriages that forever linked families to Plattsburgh.
It wasn’t all rosy. Some of the service members committed crimes or were arrested for unruly behavior or drugs. Neighbors of the Air Base complained about the noise. Anti-war activists saw the base as a symbol of aggression, not economic bounty. The whole parcel, which spans the city and town of Plattsburgh, was exempt from taxation.
But our Air Force Base was valued and fiercely protected. So, in 1993, when the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to close PAFB, it was a stunning and potentially devastating decision. Despite all efforts to overturn the ruling, the base closed in 1995.
It has taken all this time for the final transfer of land, partly because the Air Force had to clean up environmental messes on several parcels.
But during those years, an amazing thing has happened to the 3,463 acres of former base land. Due to foresight, commitment and coordinated effort, it’s now home to a successful airport, more than 60 business tenants and bustling housing developments that add to the tax base. First, Plattsburgh Intermunicipal Development Corp. and then PARC guided the change.
Plattsburgh now stands as a symbol of success pulled from disaster, a testament to community perseverance.