Raleigh city officials now know their competition for the U.S. Army's new weapons-development headquarters.
A site-search "ground team" from Army Futures Command is rounding out its work this week by visiting Minneapolis and Philadelphia, the remaining contenders on a list already known to include Raleigh, Boston and Austin.
Col. Patrick Seiber, spokesman for Army Futures Command, confirmed Monday that "the Army is down to five" now and that officials remain intent on selecting a host city for the headquarters at the end of the month.
The ground team is in charge of finding prospective office space for the four-star general and about 500 uniformed and civilian personnel who will staff Army Futures Command. The team visited Raleigh right after the Memorial Day holiday, then went to Boston and Austin last week. They spent two days in each city.
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Seiber has likened the process to an episode of HGTV's "Flip or Flop" because the team's trying to figure out how much it would cost to renovate leased spaced for the headquarters staff. The Army wants the facility up and running by summer 2019.
Team members are also trying "to get a feel for traffic and living conditions" in the five cities, he's said.
Originally, 30 cities were in contention but the Army halved that list this spring.
With the five finalists now known, that means Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle have dropped out of the running from the spring's group of 15.
That the Army is now focusing on five cities tracks the Bloomberg News report that initially identified Raleigh and Boston as being among the finalists. Seiber confirmed last week that Austin was also getting a ground-team visit, but at that time officials hadn't named the remaining two cities.
Once it begins work, Army Futures Command will be in charge of orchestrating the development of successors to aging weapons systems like the M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Service leaders like Secretary of the Army Mark Esper have signaled that they want to place the new headquarters in a city that has a strong academic and business sector, to draw on the expertise of both.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and the state's U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr have argued that the Triangle has just the mix the Army wants.
The area has three top-tier research universities in Duke University, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, a tech sector that includes major companies like Red Hat, SAS and IBM and a manufacturing sector that includes such players as GE Aviation. The region's also close to Fort Bragg, the headquarters for the Army's primary training, airborne and special-forces commands.
Local supporters are eager to land the project because they suspect that along with the Army, the area will see an influx of new offices from major defense contractors.
The ground team is supposed to send its findings up the chain of command, and the leading contenders will get an additional visit from Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville.
McCarthy and McConville will send a final recommendation to Esper and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.