Days numbered for NEX site at Hardy Barracks
October 8, 2006
TOKYO — The long-awaited National Art Center, Tokyo opening early next year is a striking geometric building set in a leafy neighborhood of Roppongi.
It’s an architectural beauty, but a view of it comes with one prominent blight: an old blue corrugated iron shack sitting beside it.
That shack is part of the Army’s Akasaka Press Center complex and now houses a Navy Exchange on the outer edge of the Army’s helicopter pad.
But the small exchange might not mar the museum’s view for much longer: The U.S. military and the government of Japan are in negotiations to tear the building down, which could mean the end of exchange facilities at the complex that houses the Hardy Barracks recreational lodging in Tokyo.
According to a memo sent to employees at the complex, the Japanese government is asking that the exchange building be torn down between Nov. 15 and Jan. 20 — in time for the museum’s opening.
Officials at the Defense Facilities Administration Agency declined to discuss the building, saying no decision has been made about its fate.
Last week a team of facilities personnel from Camp Zama, which runs the Tokyo complex, visited the building and the land.
The building belongs to the Army but its contents belong to the Navy Exchange command. The shop carries frozen and refrigerated items, canned goods, paper products, electronics, alcoholic beverages, snack foods and other items. There’s also video rental, gasoline pumps and a car rental facility.
The store is used by employees at the complex, which houses the Pacific Stars and Stripes headquarters, as well as occupants of Hardy Barracks and personnel from the nearby U.S. Embassy.
Whether the store could move to a new location on the complex has not yet been decided, according to Army officials. Navy Exchange officials could not be reached for comment.
Also at issue is the land on which the exchange building sits. The U.S. Army is proposing to return that land to Japan in exchange for space currently used by the complex’s helicopter pad, according to Ed Roper, spokesman for U.S. Army Garrison Japan.
In 1983, the original helicopter pad was shifted to allow construction of a roadway tunnel under part of the installation. The pad took over part of a nearby park.
About a decade later, after the tunnel was completed and the space above it restored, Army officials determined that the new, larger area of the helicopter pad — the original space plus the new space used during the construction — would be safer and accommodate more aircraft, Roper said.
Army leaders then asked the government of Japan to trade the former park area, about 5,000 square feet, for the similar-sized area taken up by the exchange building.
That proposed land swap likely will take several more years of negotiation, according to Army facilities officials.
In the meantime, if the exchange is demolished, it will be missed by some among its small but loyal customer base.
Petty Officer 3rd Class DeAndre Hudson, from the USS Stethem at Yokosuka Naval Base, has spent occasional weekends at Hardy Barracks during his four years in Japan, he said, and each visit to Tokyo has included a quick trip to the store.
“I could have fun here and not burn holes in my pockets so much,” he said. “Now I’ve got to pay something like $20 for a croissant (off base) instead of $2 for a sandwich here.”
But he added that the store looks like it’s seen better days.
“It looks like it’s about to fall down,” Hudson said.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hana Kusumoto contributed to this story.