GINOWAN, Okinawa — About 400 Ginowan residents, government officials and scholars from Okinawa and mainland Japan gathered Monday at the Ginowan Convention Center to discuss the future use of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station.

The symposium, co-sponsored by the Okinawa prefectural and Ginowan municipal governments, was held to generate redevelopment ideas and suggestions for the yet-to-be-returned land.

Plans for the 1,185 acres in the heart of Ginowan ran the gamut from a retirement community to developing the property for industry or higher education.

In 1996, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to close the air station within seven years if an alternate site for Marine air operations could be established on Okinawa. Henoko, a fishing community next to Camp Schwab in rural northeast Okinawa, was selected but the project has been delayed due to environmentalist and anti-base activist opposition.

Also, an Aug. 13 crash of a Marine helicopter on a university campus just outside MCAS Futenma has sparked calls to close the base before the replacement facility is ready.

Although no date is set for the closure, Okinawa prefectural and Ginowan municipal governments are busy preparing for reuse of the land.

By March 2006, a redevelopment blueprint is to be proposed to the national government.

“The return of the land now seems real to us,” said Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha in his opening remarks, noting the base has always been an obstacle to the city’s healthy growth.

Keynote speaker and moderator Shunsuke Fukushima agreed with Iha.

“Various problems created by the presence of the air station need to be solved by restoring the community, where people led an ordinary life before the war,” said the University of the Ryukyus architecture professor.

Fukushima stressed redevelopment must be done in harmony with nature and the living space must be comfortable for people of all generations.

Seizen Hanashiro, one of five panelists and chairman of the Ginowan City Military Landowners’ Association, said about half of the landowners wish to build homes there once their ancestral land is returned.

“The redevelopment should be done without placing an additional burden on landowners,” he said. “Since the closure of the air station was agreed to in 1996, the landowners have had a mixed feeling of high expectations and anxiety.”

Yoshiro Iwasa, a Meio University professor of tourism planning, proposed the base become a “resident-friendly community.” He suggested many Japanese consider Okinawa an ideal retirement location, noting 60 percent of Japanese tourists are repeat visitors.

“Many of them hope to move and settle on Okinawa,” he said.

Yasuyo Tamanaha, 27, a Ginowan resident and welfare worker, said she liked the idea of a residential community.

“I don’t want an amusement park, resort hotel or shopping mall in our new community,” she said. “I want to see our new community become a place where people of all generations, children, senior citizens or those who are handicapped can live together comfortably.”

Shinichi Matayoshi, 61, a base landowner, was wary of some of the redevelopment suggestions. “I have no doubt the military facility will close,” he said. “But the question is when.”

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