New approach to help the Castle Commerce Center thrive

MERCED COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County is taking a new approach to help the former Castle Air Force Base reach its full potential. The base closed in 1995, and Merced County took over the property in 2006. It's being developed as an industrial park, but some still see it as a "diamond in the rough."

At first glance, it may be hard to see all of the activity underway at the Castle Commerce Center. But a closer look reveals several businesses and agencies from aviation to law enforcement to manufacturing. Google even expanded its lease last month to add another 30 acres of space for its driverless car program.

Mark Hendrickson said, "So we're very excited about that, it's another step in the right direction."

Community and Economic Development Director Mark Hendrickson says the county also recently sold three more properties where new businesses will be built.

Hendrickson explained, "These businesses are small to medium sized business, one that's a fencing company to an up and coming emerging engineering firm in partnership with an entrepreneur."

But officials admit they've faced challenges in filling the remaining space. That's why the board of supervisors has now approved a $280,000 contract with a company that's working to find a private investor for the center.

Daron McDaniel said, "So this way we're going to have a private company pushing us as government to make our moves, and this is someone that's going to keep us on task and in check, and I'm looking forward to it."

Supervisor Daron McDaniel made the center a key component of his campaign -- and is now part of a newly formed committee focused on developing the 1,900 acre property. He says improving its overall appearance is one important step.

McDaniel added, "The problem is we have those ugly looking dorms out toward the front and that's what you see first, so that's the negative image they have, but once you get back into castle and look at what's going on, there is a full community going on there."

McDaniel has also found a company interested in using some of the old dorms that had asbestos problems for server based facilities. He says they would be asked to spruce up the buildings and landscaping. It's not clear how soon a private investor could be found, but the contract with the company that's searching is for 22 months.

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