Rankling veterans who had lobbied to open a military history museum at the former Tustin Marine base, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 1 Tuesday to negotiate with a developer seeking to build a sports-themed retail complex and veterans memorial in one of two former blimp hangars.
Industrial Realty Group LLC and county officials have about six months to negotiate plans for 84 acres at the former Marine Corps Air Station, which housed blimps that patrolled the coast during World War II.
One of the hangars is on the 84 acres that will come under county control once it is cleaned up by the federal government.
The other is on land already controlled by Tustin and is not part of the proposed retail complex.
The National Park Service will make the final decision on the project, because the land is now federal property.
The Downey developer, whose proposal includes an indoor climbing wall, ball fields and at least 20,000 square feet for a military display, was chosen in part because it could raise the nearly $200 million the proposed development would be expected to cost.
County officials said its top competitor, the United Veterans Organization of Orange County, had been unable to show financial backing for its most recent proposal, in which the blimp hangar would be used as an event center.
A new building would house the museum. The veterans' plan, estimated to cost $400 million, also called for retail, office and hotel development.
The veterans group's vice president, Bob Chermak, said members would have financed their project through donations and were better equipped than "guys in real estate" to head a military museum.
The developer, Chermak said, "offered us a tiny piece in a corner of a hangar to place dusty artifacts."
Industrial Realty's vice president, Tom Messmer, said the company still hoped to engage veterans in the planning process.
Supervisor John Moorlach, who joined the board this month, asked his colleagues to put off their decision so he could further study the proposals.
The other supervisors did not support his motion, saying they needed to move along with plans for the base.
Moorlach voted against the proposal.
The remainder of the former base is under Tustin's control, and city officials have approved a 1,600-acre development including several thousand homes, two schools, trails, parks, and office and retail space.