SAN FRANCISCO – Google Inc. has signed a long-term lease for part of a historic Navy air base, where it plans to renovate three massive hangars and use them for projects involving aviation, space exploration, and robotics.
The giant Internet company will pay $1.16 billion in rent over 60 years for the property, which also includes a working air field, golf course, and other buildings. The 1,000-acre site is part of the former Moffett Field Naval Air Station on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Google plans to invest more than $200 million to refurbish the hangars and add other improvements, including a museum or educational facility that will showcase the history of Moffett and Silicon Valley, according to a NASA statement. The agency said a Google subsidiary called Planetary Ventures L.L.C. will use the hangars for "research, development, assembly and testing in the areas of space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics, and other emerging technologies."
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have a well-known interest in aviation and space. The company has recently acquired several smaller firms that are working on satellite technology and robotics. A Google spokesperson declined Monday to discuss specific plans for the property, just a few miles from the company's main campus in Mountain View.
NASA plans to continue operating its Ames Research Center on the former Navy site. Google will take over operations at the runways and hangars, including a structure that was built to house dirigible-style Navy airships in the 1930s. NASA said the deal will save it $6.3 million in annual maintenance and operation costs.
Local officials praised Google's promise to restore the historic structure known as Hangar One, which is a Bay Area landmark. Democratic U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo called the lease agreement "a major win for our region."
Google already has a separate lease for another portion of the former air base, where it wants to build a second campus. Page and Brin have also used the Moffett runways for their collection of private jets, under another lease arrangement that has been criticized by some watchdog groups, who say NASA gave the executives a sweetheart deal.
"In fact, the lease gives Google unprecedented control of a federal facility to use as its own playground," John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project, said in a statement.
Simpson's group said a December audit found that a jet fleet owned through a company called H211 by Google chairman Eric Schmidt, along with Page and Brin, received an unwarranted discount worth up to $5.3 million on jet fuel purchased from the government while basing their fleet of corporate jets at Moffett.
Consumer Watchdog quoted a NASA inspector general report that questioned the fuel discount and recommended that NASA "explore with the company possible options to remedy this situation."
The new deal "is like giving the keys to your car to the guy who has been siphoning gas from your tank," said Simpson.
Simpson's group also said a Google plan to test its driverless cars at Moffett would enable it to escape California regulations requiring that such vehicles must have a driver capable of taking over control.
NASA said that as a tenant, "Planetary Ventures will be required to comply with all applicable laws, regulations and policies, including those on topics of historic preservation, environmental compliance, security, health and safety, and airfield operations to support ongoing missions and other government objectives."