Fort Carson officials plan to soon award contracts on the first of $773 million in construction projects for its own new combat aviation brigade — likely injecting new life into the local economy while bucking Defense Department efforts to downsize budgets and cut troop levels.

“By the skin of our teeth, the combat aviation brigade is coming to Fort Carson,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the post’s commanding general.

The airfield’s transformation is beginning to take shape.

Within the next week, post officials plan to open up bids to construct a $14.2 million building to house the brigade’s headquarters. Bids opened for a $63 million aircraft hangar earlier this year.

The contracts are among six that Congress authorized this year as a $238-million down payment for the brigade, which figures to swell the post’s troop level by 10 percent.
Should Capitol Hill follow through with the rest of the funding, economists predict a boom for the Pikes Peak region’s economy.

Fort Carson already pumps about $2 billion per year into the region’s economy, according to a study by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments.

The paychecks these soldiers take home, as well as the $773 million in construction funding anticipated to arrive in the next four years, should inject $1.3 billion into the local economy, according to an estimate by the agency.

In doing so, it would create 9,300 jobs in construction and secondary jobs, such as at restaurants and banks, the agency said.

According to another estimate, the 4,150 jobs would be created with the arrival of the troops and the first year of construction funding, said Tom Binnings, senior partner at Summit Economics.

From 2014 through 2016, he anticipates another 2,035 each year in construction and secondary jobs.

The paychecks that the 2,700 incoming soldiers bring home could boost the area’s gross domestic product by 2 percent, Binnings said.

“It’s a very positive impact,” Binnings said. “So as long as they’re stationed and not deployed — you know, that’s another factor here.”

The brigade still faces possible roadblocks — including Defense Department-wide budget cuts that include shaving the Army’s ranks by 80,000 soldiers.

Construction also won’t start until a final report is issued on the impact that the brigade will have on the surrounding environment.

The report is due no later than June, Fort Carson officials said.

Bill Sulzman, with the Stop the Whop Whop Campaign, voiced caution regarding the Army’s plans.

“They pretty much figure that this is going to happen,” said Bill Sulzman, with the Stop the Whop Whop Campaign. “But we haven’t definitely decided that we think the process is over, especially since so much of that money is out there yet."

“There’s still a lot of it out there that has not been appropriated.”

What’s coming when

The brigade coming to Fort Carson is a heavy combat aviation brigade — one featuring larger, more powerful helicopters than a light combat aviation brigade.

The first batch of helicopters — about a dozen twin-rotor CH-47 Chinooks — are scheduled to arrive by January 2013, said Lt. Col. Gary Pearson, who is helping to coordinate the new brigade’s arrival.

The rest of the helicopters -- an assortment of AH-64s Apache attack helicopters, UH-60 Blackhawk transports and HH-60 Blackhawks that are used as airborne ambulances -- will arrive in two later batches. The first shipment will arrive in May 2013. The other will arrive in May 2014, Pearson said.

The brigade is slated to be combat-ready in 2015.

The brigade is getting hand-me-downs for its aerial fleet. The Army is in the midst of purchasing new helicopters for other combat aviation brigades. The older helicopters from those brigades are being refurbished and sent to Fort Carson.

“We will be getting solid aircraft, but it will not be the newest model,” Pearson said.