Unlike assumptions about base closure, many communities find themselves better off than before; Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is considered one of the fastest growing hub airports in the United States.
In 1991, the Air Force announced Williams Air Force Base would be closing. The State and local community feared for the 3,800 jobs and $300 million economic impact that they would lose. Upon the announcement of the closure, the Governor of Arizona quickly appointed the Williams AFB Economic Reuse Planning Advisory Committee.
The committee was made up of representatives from all neighboring towns and cities, Maricopa County, State of Arizona, business leaders, and citizens. Through a public process, the committee developed the Williams Economic Reuse Plan, which outlined how the Base would be redeveloped. It was presented to and approved by the Governor of Arizona and the U.S. Air Force in 1992 in advance of the late 1993 closing.
That plan called for creating an educational consortium, now called the Gateway Campus, and a commercial airport to relieve some of the high volume traffic at the nearby Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Today, that plan has come to fruition with a thriving airport, rapidly growing college campuses and other businesses and agencies bringing more than 4,500 jobs to the former base.
In the background of the successful redevelopment, the Air Force has continued an aggressive environmental cleanup program at the former base. Past disposal practices, spills, releases, and leaking tanks and pipelines resulted in soil and groundwater contamination.
In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed Williams on its National Priorities List as a "Superfund" site. This listing requires the Air Force to follow the cleanup process prescribed in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) with regulatory oversight from the US EPA and the State of Arizona.
Williams' drinking water is safe to drink, because it is supplied by City of Mesa and, therefore, is not impacted by the groundwater contamination. The Air Force and the state and federal regulators work together to ensure that Williams remains a safe place to live, work and play.
To date the Air Force has spent more than $93.54 million on the cleanup and millions more will be spent for ongoing monitoring and operation of groundwater treatment and soil cleanup systems, and maintenance and monitoring of landfill sites.
As a result of these cleanup activities, the Air Force has transferred 3,892 of the former base's 4,043 acres, to state and private ownership.
Documents containing information about the environmental cleanup at Williams can be found at :
Arizona State University (ASU) Library
Library Hours: 7:00am - Midnight (Open 24-hours with ASU ID)
300 East Orange Mall
Tempe, Arizona 85287
Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport
In March 1994, just six months after the 1993 base closing, the airport reopened for public use as Williams Gateway Airport. Owned and operated by the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority that includes the City of Mesa, City of Phoenix, Town of Gilbert, Town of Queen Creek, and the Gila River Indian Community, the name was changed in 2008 to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport to reflect its broader regional appeal.
With a wide variety of tenants and a diverse group of users, Gateway is considered one of the fastest growing hub airports in the United States and has earned a reputation for being a convenient alternative to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
In 2011, the airport served nearly one million total passengers, with more than 171,200 takeoffs and landings, making it the 65th busiest airport in the United States, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
While the majority of the traffic is general aviation, flight training, military aircraft, large aircraft flight-testing and cargo operations are common. The airport's most common users include all Phoenix/Mesa metropolitan area flight schools, Immigration Customs Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshals, 161st Arizona Air National Guard (KC-135s), and a variety of military aircraft, cargo companies, and corporate jets.
The airport is also developing as an international aerospace center with aircraft maintenance, modification, testing and pilot training. Tenants include Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Embraer, Air Evac, Native American Air Ambulance, Jetstrip (aircraft paint stripping), Airline Transport Professionals (flight training), Fighter Combat International (recreational and training flights), Chandler-Gilbert Community College (aircraft maintenance training), University of North Dakota (flight training), Mesa Pilot Development (flight training), and L3 Communications.
Overall, Gateway hosts more than 40 companies, and serves 35 cities with non-stop service via Allegiant and Spirit Airlines as well as eight more cities with continuing service.
The airport contributes $685 million annually to the Arizona economy and supports some 4000 jobs in the service area. Visit Companies On Site for a list of all the companies on site at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway.
Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus
Arizona State University at the Polytechnic Campus is one of four campuses of Arizona State University. Originally named ASU East, the campus opened in 1996 on the former Williams Air Force Base in southeast Mesa, Arizona. At the time there were nearly 1,000 students enrolled in one of the eight degree programs offered. The campus started with two schools -- the School of Technology and the School of Management and Agribusiness. East College was added in 1997 as an incubator for new professional programs.
As of the Fall 2011 semester, more than 10,500 students were enrolled in 40 degree programs based on the campus, which currently employs nearly 600 people.
ASU shares approximately 600 acres at Power and Williams Field roads with Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Mesa Community College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a Veteran's Administration Clinic and the Silvestre Herrera Army Reserve Center. These entities make up what is known as the Williams Campus.
As the needs of the university and community evolve, so too does the campus. In July 2005, the campus changed its name from ASU East to ASU's Polytechnic campus to better reflect the mission of the programs at the campus. Programs such as the new interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science in Engineering continue to be developed, offering students even more practical degree choices.
Some of the former base housing has been transformed into housing for students with families. Community playgrounds and picnic/BBQ areas are located in South, West and North Desert Village. Faculty and Staff of ASU and the Maricopa County Community Colleges are also eligible to reside in family housing.
Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC), a community college in the Maricopa County Community College District, opened its Mesa campus at the former Williams Air Force Base in 1995 and approximately 4,100 students now attend classes there.
The Williams Campus offers programs in aviation and electronics, nursing, science, and social and behavioral sciences.