The conversion of a brigade combat team at Fort Benning into a much smaller maneuver battalion task force as the Army eliminates 40,000 active-duty soldiers over the next three years will harm most sectors of the economy of Columbus, Ga., and surrounding areas.
Real estate executives are particularly concerned about the pending loss of 3,402 soldiers at the post.
“When you talk about 3,400 troops and then the civilians that will go with that, probably around 2,000, it’s pretty devastating to the apartment investment community,” Will White, a partner in the Columbus-based apartment development and management company Greystone Properties, told the Ledger-Enquirer.
About a quarter of his properties’ residents are military, and with an occupancy rate now hovering at 93 percent, Greystone would face difficulties in absorbing the cutbacks announced last week at Fort Benning.
“It could easily dip below 90 percent, which is an unhealthy occupancy level,” White said. “Historically, across the country, apartments are in balance around 94 percent occupancy. That’s considered a normal market when demand and supply are balanced. I don’t know if Columbus has seen 88 or 89 percent occupancy. I haven’t seen it that low,” he said.
The reduction in military personnel, which will be accompanied by cuts in civilian workers that have not yet been announced, also can be expected to hinder new development.
Before embarking on new projects, developers will need to study the city’s demographics more closely, with the post slated to lose 29 percent of its troops by the end of fiscal 2017, said David Johnson, a broker with Columbus-based KW Commercial.
Area leaders clearly were disappointed by last week’s news that Fort Benning’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division will convert to an infantry battalion task force, but Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said she understands the post’s fortunes will rise and wane as the nation enters and exits overseas conflicts.
But the latest cutbacks set Fort Benning up to attract additional troops and missions in the next BRAC round, she noted.
“The pitch they’re going to get from me is let me show you where you can put all your new resources,” Tomlinson said. “Bring us your troops. We’ve got a place for them. It’s state of the art and you won’t have to spend to update anything. We’ve got what you need right here,” she told the paper.