Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

For those looking to rent a former military base, Tuolumne County is looking for a new tenant.

County leaders say they will soon hire a private real estate agent to market the 11,000-square-foot former National Guard Armory near the Columbia Airport. They hope to find a multi-year tenant to rent the property for about $3,500 a month.

A lease would provide a step toward financial sustainability county leaders are seeking from the county's two operating airports.

Last week, Deputy County Administrator Daniel Richardson told the county Board of Supervisors that the building has been empty for more than a year. While previous tenants have paid more than $4,000 for the building, market forces have driven the price down.

"It just depends on the economy. It's taken a hit at this point," he said.

The county in 2000 gained ownership of the armory, which was built by the federal government in the early 1950s. The building includes a large gymnasium area, garage, parking, five offices, bathrooms and a kitchen. According to the County Administrator's Office, there are issues with poorly maintained bathrooms and inadequate heating and air conditioning for an office environment.

But the building still has marketable features. Larry Cope, executive director of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, said on Monday that it can easily be used for light industrial purposes or even for shipping or storage. The TCEDA has been listing the site as an available property on its website, and Cope said they've talked with some possible clients looking at the site for manufacturing or distribution.

Cope also said he could see it used for construction, or even by a mining company.

"It actually could be used for a number of things," he said.

Marketing the site is a move toward making the Columbia Airport a more profitable operation. In the fall, county officials said the Columbia and Pine Mountain Lake airports are not operating in the black and are each losing tens of thousands of dollars annually.

The county now has a multi-year business plan to turn that around, and finding a tenant for the Armory is a component of that plan. Other plans include increased marketing of airport events and renting out more hangars. There is also a federally funded project in the works to construct a water line at Columbia to improve development opportunities.