REPORTS AND INSIGHTS FROM THE FIELD
An appraiser floats several options
to determine highest and best use
for a dirigible hangar
by Jeffrey S. Harris, MAI
The nation’s only steel hangar for blimps remaining from World War II stands near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. When
I was hired to appraise it in 2014, I thought I
would be working on a different type of building — the bank didn’t know what they had and
had bid the project incorrectly. After working
with them to sort out the confusion, I was
excited and a little nervous to be working on
such an unusual and historic property.
The area surrounding the hangar originated
as a shipping center due to its location along
the Dismal Swamp Canal and its proximity to
the Pasquotank River and the Albemarle
Sound, serving first as a mercantile city before
developing into an industrial one. The area also
is home to one of the nation’s largest Coast
Guard bases, which is why a hangar for dirigibles exists in that part of the state.
The Second Deficiency Appropriation Bill
for 1941 approved the construction of eight
facilities nationwide to house up to 48 airships
that would conduct anti-submarine patrols off
the nation’s coasts. Construction on the steel
hangar at Naval Air Station Weeksville was
completed in 1942.
Soon after, a second hangar was erected on
the grounds. But due to steel rations at the
time, that hangar was built of wood. In fact, it
had been one of the world’s largest wooden
buildings before fire destroyed it in 1995.
The air station was decommissioned in
1957, and in 1964, the state bought the
115-acre property and marketed it as an
industrial park. Over the years, it served many
different purposes, including as a manufacturing facility.
When I saw the building in person, I was in
awe. I knew it would be huge, but its size really
is impressive. The building is massive, measur-
ing 960 feet by 328 feet and standing 190 feet
tall, and its steel construction allows it to flex
several inches to withstand wind forces.
The property is zoned for industrial use, and
improvements total 317,500 square feet of net
leasable space. Approximately 6 percent of the
building is conditioned, meaning it is both
heated and cooled. The structure can accommodate aircraft up to 150 feet long and six fully
inflated aerostats (airship, hot-air balloon or
blimp), up to 252 feet long.
Highest and best use was a critical component of my analysis of the site as vacant. My
research primarily focused on the possibility
of residential or industrial development. Residential development would require a zoning
change, and the area had not yet recovered
from the financial crisis of 2008, so I deter-
the highest and
best use of the
site as improved.