Former Norton AFB, San Bernardino, California (Closed 1994)

The Air Force's successful cleanup of environmental contamination at the former Norton Air Force Base has jumpstarted redevelopment at what's now known as San Bernardino International Airport
The Air Force's successful cleanup of environmental contamination at the former Norton Air Force Base has jumpstarted redevelopment at what's now known as San Bernardino International Airport.


Norton - Streamlined for Success
Norton - Streamlined for Success
For most of its operational lifetime, the former Norton Air Force Base did its share of heavy-lifting for military missions around the world. Now the former base is flexing its muscles as an economic staple of Southern California's Inland Valley region.

The former Norton Air Force Base, now known as San Bernardino International Airport, has been transformed into a flourishing business complex where huge modern buildings have replaced military structures. Several thousand civilians work at the former 2,221-acre base, arriving daily for jobs in aviation, manufacturing, distribution and logistics.

In 1990, a joint powers authority called the Inland Valley Development Agency (IVDA) was formed to oversee redevelopment of the non-aviation portion of the former Norton Air Force Base. Elected officials from the County of San Bernardino and the Cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Highland and Loma Linda comprise the IVDA, which is responsible for approximately 600 acres on the former base and a redevelopment project area of approximately 13,000 acres of surrounding properties. The land use designations within the project area include light and heavy industrial, office, commercial and residential. The IVDA, which earns revenue from property taxes, funds the airport's construction and operation.

Elected officials from the same jurisdictions also sit on the board of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority (SBIAA), a joint powers authority formed in 1992 to oversee redevelopment of the aviation portion (approximately 1300 acres) of the former Norton Air Force Base.

The Air Force Real Property Agency's work to deed the property to IVDA, "was the key that opened the door" to attracting a master developer, according to Jim Gourley, former director of IVDA. In 2002, IVDA entered into an agreement with Hillwood/San Bernardino LLC., a Texas based development company, to serve as master developer. Hillwood, owned by Ross Perot Jr., has built most of the new structures on the former base with the exception of the Stater Bros. complex.

In 2004, Mattel opened a 1.2 million-square-foot national distribution and logistics center at the former base. The concrete tilt-up building with reflective glass accents is 1,000 feet wide. The structure includes 25,000 square feet of aftermarket retail outlet space.

The former Norton AFB headquarters was replaced by the corporate headquarters of the Stater Brothers supermarket chain, completed in 2007. The region's largest private employer, Stater Bros. has an annual payroll of $180 million. The company employs more than 17,000, including 2,000 at its Norton Distribution Center. More than 35 World War II-era buildings were dismantled to build the company's 2.3 million-square-foot complex on 180 acres of the former base.

Inside the lobby of Stater Bros. corporate headquarters is the closest thing to a historical museum on the former base. The company CEO, Jack Brown, hired a museum curator to design two exhibits - one about the history of Stater Bros. and the other devoted to Capt. Leland Norton, the World War II hero and San Bernardino native the former base was named for. Norton's captain's bars, medals, letters, photographs and other artifacts are on display.

A 651,880-square-foot warehouse built by Kohl's Department Stores on the former Norton AFB displays that company's penchant for green practices. Kohl's built an enormous solar array on its San Bernardino rooftop, adding 6,208 solar panels, enough to generate 1 megawatt of power. Since October, 2008, all trucks transporting Kohl's goods to SBIA from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are fuelled by liquefied natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel.

Pep Boys, a value-oriented car parts and tire retailer with more than 700 stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, has one of five nationwide distribution centers on the former Norton AFB. The Pep Boys' facility is 600,240 square feet and features 65 loading docks.

Another tenant is Kelly Space & Technology, Inc., a privately-held aerospace and defense technology company with advanced environmental testing services capability. The company aims to create and commercialize technologies that will open space to large-scale commercial development and apply these space technologies to beneficial use on earth.

Like the rest of the former base, the airport has a decidedly commercial - rather than military - appearance. The airport has one runway, which is 10,000 feet by 200 feet, big enough to accommodate Boeing's 747-8F, which was tested there in 2011.

SBIA has a fully operational passenger terminal lacking only passengers. Efforts to attract a commercial airline ready to establish regular flights there have yet to succeed, despite the attractive modern terminal. In 2011, a solar power system was installed in the parking lot of the new terminal, providing shade for parked vehicles and 632kW of energy to offset the terminal's future power requirements.

A three-story customs building was still under construction in late 2011. U.S. Customs and Border Protection have operated at the airport since 2006. SBIA is a Foreign Trade Zone, offering federal tax incentives to businesses locating there, and a Local Agency Military Base Recovery Area (LAMBRA) Enterprise Zone, allowing California tax credits to qualifying businesses operating there.

Million Air is the fixed base operation (FBO) at SBIA, servicing private, military and business jets with fuel and terminal services. The company, which operates as a franchise in numerous other locations around the U.S. (including several other closed Air Force bases) opened its San Bernardino location in 2010. In San Bernardino, Million Air has a 14,000-square-foot FBO and 60,000 square feet of hangar space, adjacent to 14,000 square feet of corporate office space. Onsite customs service is available, as are a theatre, pilot lounge, quiet rooms and hospitality bar.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains an air tanker base at SBIA for firefighting in the San Bernardino region. Other tenants include Certified Aviation Services, a national aircraft maintenance company based in Rancho Cucamonga, and Aero Pro, LLC, which specializes in aircraft refurbishing and painting. Ontario-based ReRubber signed a seven-year lease with the airport authority in late 2011. The company recycles used tires by grinding them into fine powder, an ingredient in ReRubber's liquid coating and sealant products. Company CEO J.D. Wang announced plans to employ 125 people at a factory located in the former Norton AFB Commissary.

The former base's potential as an employment and transportation hub was expanding as this was written in late 2011. The Air Force Real Property Agency's rapid transfer of the entire base -- coupled with successful cleanup management - has made the former base an attractive location for regional, national and international companies alike.