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A Navy Base Closes, and a Town Thrives

The center of the Village of Glenview features statues recalling its past as a naval air station.
Gisele Grayson, NPR
The center of the Village of Glenview features statues recalling its past as a naval air station.
Long after the last planes have taken off, a sign still marks Hangar One. It is now home to upscale stores and greenspace.
/ Gisele Grayson, NPR
/
Gisele Grayson, NPR
Long after the last planes have taken off, a sign still marks Hangar One. It is now home to upscale stores and greenspace.

The prospect of a military base closing strikes fear into many communities, which often form close business ties with their local base, relying on it for a steady stream of customers and growth.

More than a decade ago, the Glenview Naval Air Station near Chicago was closed after nearly 60 years. But the Village of Glenview found a way to thrive -- and it serves as a model for towns facing base closures.

The closure hit the town hard. In the early 1990s, the base employed nearly 400 civilians and had 1,800 active-duty personnel. It pumped an estimated $165 million into the local economy.

But Glenview now features upscale, mixed-use areas of stores and housing on green spaces once dominated by runways and government buildings. The site of the airfield itself is now home to a golf course.

But the changes didn't happen overnight -- and experts warn that Glenview's success may be difficult to repeat elsewhere. A major factor, city officials say, was that the base was located in the center of town, instead of being shared among several communities.

And the sudden availability of 1,100 acres of prime real estate for development in an affluent suburb is an advantage few military towns stand to gain. The heart of the area became the Glen, an area designated for parks, housing and retail use. And the town, 20 miles north of Chicago, is planning even more growth, eventually including sports and entertainment venues.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.

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