That's the news that seems to be trickling out of Washington this month.
First, there was this on Oct. 1: The Army announced that General Dynamics had won a $647 million contract to build 352 new Strykers.
Then, a few days later, from Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff himself, came news from the publication Defense Weekly that the U.S. Army, beginning with the 1st Armored Division, will convert its brigade combat teams from the heavy tracked vehicles it is using to the much lighter Stryker vehicles. (Gen Casey's public information officer, Lt. Col. Richard Spiegel, confirmed to The Star that the order had been signed in early October, but did not provide a timetable.)
The process will start, the publication reported, with the 1st Armored Division and later with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. And that, apparently, could only be the beginning. Something more long-term could be at play here.
Along about now, of course, you are asking what this inside-the-Army bit of info has to do with us. Well, the place to get the oil checked on your Stryker armored personnel carrier — get it serviced, get it upgraded, get it ready to go back to war and keep it ready for war — is the Anniston Army Depot. So you better believe that the current General Dynamics contract, as well as the possibility that Casey has signed the papers, have implications for the depot.
Since each Stryker brigade will consist of 332 vehicles, the thinking is that a lot of new Strykers will have to be built in the coming years.
But what kind of implications are we talking about? Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the depot?
Most assuredly it is a good thing, says Pete Keating, the company spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights, Mich.
Keating explains that, first of all, the new contract awarded on Oct. 1 will mean that at least half of those Strykers will be sent to Anniston to be assembled. The other half, as is usually the case, will be sent to Canada to be assembled.
"That's some good news," Keating said. "But this other work that will be coming over the next two to three years ... will not only mean more Strykers coming to the depot, but probably more upgrading of other vehicles."
Keating explained that the 1st Armored Division, for example, would almost certainly send its M1 tanks to the depot to be upgraded before those tanks are sent out to other units within the Army. As the Strykers replace more and more vehicles, many of those vehicles will also be recycled through the depot before being sent back out, he said.
"Just because the Stryker is going to replace tanks and other vehicles doesn't mean the Army will stop using them," Keating said. "They will simply be used elsewhere."
What's also afoot here is a long-range plan by the Army to eventually replace the 6,000 or so Vietnam-era M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, some of them with Strykers (this also compliments of Defense News).
This, Keating says, could be a long process, but it's something that is beginning to get much more backing in the places that matter for these kinds of deals — Congress and the Pentagon.
He says this plan, the recent contract awarded to General Dynamics and Casey's signed or not-signed order, signals a much more favorable environment for the construction of armored vehicles than just a few months ago.
For that he heaps credit on Alabama's congressional delegation, including Rep. Mike Rogers.
"Back earlier in the year," he said, "there was a lot of unpredictability. Now it looks like it could be steady work for us and the depot for the next two to three years at least."
Business as Usual is a Monday column by John Fleming, The Star's editor at large. Send suggestions for topics to firstname.lastname@example.org
In other businessWanna buy a big box?: If you want to have some bad dreams, read up on the plight of commercial real estate in this country in the last few months.
Reuters has noted dramatic rises in vacancy rates. The San Diego Union Tribune says the downtown office market in that city reached a 20 percent vacancy rate recently for the first time in 16 years. The paper said that's 14.5 million square feet out of a 56.6-million-foot square. Other metro areas have similar stories.
Take a drive around the Anniston-Oxford area and it won't take you long to spot a vacant building. This task has been made even easier because of the demise of any number of big retail chains that fell victim to the economic meltdown.
For example, every Circuit City store in the nation is up for court-order sale. Commercial real estate agents all over the place are trying to move the big buildings for the receiver, McKinley Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich.
That includes the one on South Quintard.
Elliott Kyle, an agent with Shane Investment Property Group in Atlanta, says a mistake was made in calculating the square footage of the building. It is not a 15,000-square-foot structure as advertised, but a 20,000-square-foot one.
So, says Kyle, the $1,016,500, or $66.52 per square foot list price, is a bargain. Indeed, the agent says, this is about one-third of the replacement cost of the building.
It certainly seems cheap when you consider what other Circuit City stores are going for around the country these days. You could pick up the one in Youngstown, Ohio, for $97.50 a square foot, a big 32,000-square-foot-place for around $3.2 million. Or you could go out to California, to the town of Vista, where another 32,000-plus-square-foot vacant Circuit City is on the market for close to $6 million.
Goodwill Industries bought a Circuit City store just outside Atlanta a couple of weeks ago for $164 a square foot, or $3.35 million.
The question is what to do with a big-box store once you own it. Apparently, community colleges like them. So does Chuck E Cheese, the family fun restaurant chain. Some of them have even been converted into bowling alleys.
— John Fleming