97 percent of Yongsan Garrison will be turned over to South Korea 'as is'
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The main U.S. military base here in Korea would shrink from 635 acres to a mere 20 acres — a 97 percent decrease — as a part of the effort to centralize U.S. forces southward on the peninsula.
The commissary, the 121st General Hospital, the driving range, even the post exchange and bowling alley all would go back to the South Koreans.
The shrunken U.S. post would include a 20-acre plot with a small office for the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the Dragon Hill hotel, according to Col. Dan Wilson, a USFK engineer who is a key participant in the developing the relocation plans.
The United States and South Korea finalized the agreement to close Yongsan Garrison in late October. Earlier this month, the South Korean National Assembly passed a bill that would allow its government to spend between $3 billion to $4 billion to fund the movement of U.S. troops from Yongsan to Pyongtaek, an area that takes in the U.S. installations at Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base.
The move is scheduled to be completed by 2008.
What becomes of Yongsan — a swath of land three quarters the size of New York’s Central Park — remains unclear, Wilson and his Korean counterpart, Kim Dong-ghi, said this week. Some ideas have included a huge park, an underground mall or additional commercial space, but nothing has been decided, officials said this week.
“It’s too early to say,” Kim said. “It’s a moving discussion, how to utilize returned land throughout Seoul and the country. It is going to be discussed with the local governments.”
“They are looking at future use of the properties we’re returning,” Wilson said during an interview Thursday. He said no money would exchange with the hand-over of land. “The Korean government owns the land and they grant us the use of it for free.”
U.S. Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea have worked for years to try to free up land in Seoul; more recently, U.S. officials announced they planned the eventual downsizing of U.S. troop strength on the peninsula. Already, smaller bases in the northern part of South Korea are preparing to close as construction at Camp Humphreys in the Pyongtaek area ramps up.
When the plan is completed in the next few years, the number of U.S. forces in South Korea will have decreased by 12,500 and U.S. occupation of S.Korean land by two-thirds.
Both countries are awaiting passage of Korea’s 2005 budget to set in motion the U.S. move from Seoul. In addition to Yongsan, USFK plans to move southward its operations at the other 13 sites throughout Seoul, Wilson said. Currently, the U.S. uses about 900 acres in Korea’s capital city, he said, including Yongsan.
In the meantime, the Korean central government has been working with local leaders to understand their concerns and desires about the U.S. properties, said Kim, who is working on the relocation project in Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan’s office.
The United States will leave the sites “as is,” Wilson said. They have no obligation to tear down buildings; the Koreans may decide to use the infrastructure as they like, he said.
“We don’t have to restore it,” he said. “They get the benefit of whatever we’ve built on there.”