San Diego Business Journal

Having undergone a 25-year overhaul that included the reception of new nuclear fuel, the USS Carl Vinson is in Newport News, Va., and becoming a functioning aircraft carrier again.

In April 2010, the ship is set to swap its home port for Naval Air Station North Island.

It will become the third carrier permanently home ported in Coronado, and further boost the county's economy.

The Vinson's arrival will bring 3,200 sailors to the area, and some will bring families.

A study commissioned by the San Diego Military Advisory Council and published in August estimated that the Pentagon will spend $263 million on the move, not counting construction.

The Vinson's presence in the region will generate 6,400 jobs and an annual economic impact of $417 million, the study said.

North Island is already home to the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan. The Navy figures one carrier provides its community with $203 million in salaries yearly, plus $4 million in utility spending. Multiplied by three, the carriers provide the community with $621 million.

As the Vinson prepares a return to the fleet (its barbershop reopened in March), North Island is preparing for its arrival.

Barnhart's $23M Makeover

The pressure is on for one construction firm to speed work.

Barnhart, a local subsidiary of Atlanta-based Heery International, has one year to tear up Berth Lima, a 1,300-foot-long, deep-water berth at North Island, and remake it to better accommodate the Vinson and its sister ships.

The Navy awarded a $23 million design-build project to Barnhart in February.

It's a hurry-up project. The Navy promised to pay "whatever the market will bear" for an expedited schedule, said Cmdr. Shawn Bergan, who oversees the work for the Navy.

The 50-foot-deep area will get 80 new pilings, but most work will be out of the water. The potholed expanse of Berth Lima will get improved high-voltage electrical service, lines to supply fresh water, and new asphalt to better support loading and unloading the big ships.

Barnhart says it is putting up a security building, pump house, building with restrooms and pay phones, plus two steel watchtowers, two guardhouses, security fencing, high-masted security lights and surveillance infrastructure.

Other businesses will have to wait to serve the Vinson and its crew.

They include San Diego's ship repair contractors, big and small, and retailers and service businesses in the communities surrounding Naval Base Coronado.

Inns and apartment complexes will benefit from families coming to visit. Retail and restaurants will also welcome the Vinson, says Linda Packer of the Coronado Chamber of Commerce.

Bread, Butter And Beer

Mike O'Connor runs Island Sports & Spirits. At the bay end of Orange Avenue, it's the closest sports bar to the base. By O'Connor's reckoning, his place has become the neighborhood bar for the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz. He's hoping to spread the word to the Vinson.

"I'm planning to be on the dock, handing out information on our place," he said.

Crews from the home ported ships are his "bread and butter," O'Connor said.

Restaurateur David Spatafore said the Vinson's arrival "will have an impact, but it won't be a windfall" for the Coronado economy. As principal of Nado Life, Spatafore runs two locations of Village Pizzeria and three other restaurants on the island.

He'll get business, he says. But so will the region's auto dealers and big discount retailers, such as Kmart and Target Stores.

The Navy recently flew Spatafore out to one of its carriers for a visit. On top of the spectacle, the experience gave him some economic food for thought. Since the average age on board the carrier is 20, the Vinson's arrival presents a "different economic impact" than a group of more senior military people, he said.

All told, the Pentagon spent $15.5 billion in San Diego during 2008, according to the 2008 Military Advisory Council study. That's up from $12.7 billion in 2005.