So What’s Going on With Google’s Effort to Lease Moffett Field?

Over at Pando Daily, Dan Raile asks that musical question that’s been on everybody’s mind, “What ever happened to Google’s lease for a huge government airfield in Mountain View?”

In February, the General Services Administration announced that Planetary Ventures, a Google-backed company, had submitted the winning bid for a 20-year lease on Moffett Field, which is currently managed by NASA Ames. Negotiations were to be complete by July 1, but Raile reports discussions appear to be in limbo.

Now, it would seem that leasing 1,000 acres of land with its own runway in the middle of Silicon Valley (where property values are sky high) would be a slam dunk. But, the property has a few issues that have likely complicated negotiations.

The lease agreement carries requirements that Google rehabilitate a vast dirigible hangar to its former steampunk glory, fix up the parcel’s 18-hole golf course, and develop a publicly accessible educational facility on site. Any additional plans and the financials of the lease have been kept under wraps.

Will it simply be Google’s private airfield? A Silicon Valley hub for the commercial space industry? An expanded footprint for Google’s moonshot proclivities? Will we ever know?

Google is remarkably opaque for a public company of its size, and Ames is no slouch at secrecy either….

As late as June 24th, a representative from Google’s real estate division told me that the talks were on schedule. On October 1, she said “still moving forward.” Neither NASA nor the GSA would comment on the negotiations. As with any decision funneling through the federal government at the moment, the smart money says we’ll remain in the dark until after November’s midterm elections….

And it gets more complicated. Moffett Field is also a Superfund Site in need of extensive remediation, and this places severe limits on any potential development. The cleanup is still the responsibility of the Navy –which operated Moffett until 1994 – with EPA oversight.

So what does Google have to gain by buying up a little-used airfield located on an environmental disaster zone?

Google has branched out far beyond Internet search into areas such as drones, high-altitude balloons and satellites. The company wants to launch a constellation of spacecraft that would allow it to provide global broadband services. Moffett Field — which is located near Google headquarters — would be a good location for that work.

We will see what happens. Hopefully there will be some clarity about the situation toward the end of the year.