Thompson receives award for Mare Island support
Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, recognized for helping to revitalize Vallejo's former military base
On a visit to the humongous Mare Island factory that helped rebuild the Pacific Fleet after Pearl Harbor, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson on Thursday was honored for his work to help Vallejo's former military base.
Thompson, D-St. Helena, received the 2014 Association of Defense Communities Congressional Leadership Award at a brief ceremony in historic Building 680 on Nimitz Avenue, where Blu Homes, Inc. moved its corporate headquarters in January.
"Let's be real honest," said Thompson, who's seeking a ninth term in the November election. "This award may be made out to me, but this award is for all of you folks because I'm just working on your behalf. I'll keep doing everything I can to make sure that we can see Mare Island revitalized and the community of Vallejo revitalized."
Thompson was one of eight members of Congress — and the only from California — to be selected this year for the award that recognizes members for their support of military communities in their districts and across the nation.
Also in attendance Thursday were Vallejo Vice Mayor Bob Sampayan, City Manager Dan Keen and representatives of Blu Homes, the Chamber of Commerce and the Mare Island Economic Development Committee.
"Like Congressman Thompson, we're committed to bringing economic development to Mare Island and the city of Vallejo, " said Woody Bell, chief operating officer of Blu Homes. "We believe that manufacturing and economic activity will be unequalled in this area and we're looking forward to being part of the future in this bustling economic hub."
Keen said he's had the "dubious honor" in his career of being city manager for three cities that have former military bases.
"One of the things I've learned in that time is that it takes great partnerships with everybody, particularly with your congressional representative and your state legislators, to really pull off an economic revitalization such as we're seeing here," Keen said. "Congressman Thompson by far as been the most active and engaged congressman I've ever worked with in any of those cities."
Keen added that the former base is in the midst of an economic revitalization. In the past year, 20 new businesses — including Blu Homes — have come to the island, absorbing 200,000 square feet of commercial space. As of June, there were more than 100 businesses on the island employing 2,237 workers.
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority is building a ferry maintenance facility on the island and Touro University has surpassed 1,500 students and more than $200 million invested in lab and classroom space.
"And very soon, for those of you who reside and do business in the city, you'll start to see buildings coming down on the north end of the island, something as a city we are very, very proud of," Keen said. "I promise you, by the end of this year if not the end of the summer, there will just be beautiful blank space out there."
Sampayan, who presented the award proclamation to Thompson, praised the congressional representative for helping to bring "millions of dollars to Mare Island" through grants and federal contracts.
"It's safe to say his heart is here in Vallejo," Sampayan said.
Last October, Thompson introduced legislation aimed at bringing tens of millions of dollars in private sector investment to communities that have been hit by military base closures.
However, the tax bill suffered a setback with the defeat of co-author Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, who lost his congressional primary runoff last month.
"But I wouldn't be discouraged by that," Thompson told the crowd. "Any member of congress in an area with a closed military base understands the importance of bringing business back to that specific venue. And so I'm sure we'll pick up right where we left off. It's important that we keep the pressure on this and provide all the tools that local communities need to make sure we can have a viable economy. And I want to start right here in Vallejo."
Thompson's efforts to bolster Mare Island's redevelopment have included hosting a summit last year focused on the cleanup, reuse and long-term economic opportunities available at the historic former base that closed in 1996.
He also helped Vallejo secure a $75,000 grant last year from the Environmental Protection Agency to help with the removal of derelict former Navy buildings on the north end of the island.
"We've got the commitment," Thompson said. "We've got all the accoutrements we need — a beautiful community, great infrastructure — and we can make this happen."
Contact Tony Burchyns at 707-553-6831.
Rep. Mike Thompson speaks to a crowd at the Blu Homes, Inc. manufacturing facility on Mare Island Thursday after receiving an award for his work in redeveloping former military base communities. (MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD)
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