They took down the garrison colors at Fort Monmouth yesterday. Tomorrow, a final retreat ceremony will be held at the U.S. Army base on the Jersey Shore and nearly a century of service to the nation at the base will end.
The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) designated Fort Monmouth for closure when it culled a significant portion of the nation’s military facilities. BRAC was given the last word on base closings by Congress to avoid the political infighting that traditionally had prevented any bases from being shuttered. BRAC decided to transfer Fort Monmouth’s mission to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
The impact of this decision was felt across Monmouth and Ocean counties in New Jersey, including in the Business Facilities office in Tinton Falls. The base has been the area’s largest single employer for years, with about 5,000 jobs tied directly to the base and 15,000 more dependent upon it. Several members of our staff have relatives who worked at Fort Monmouth; in recent months, they had to mull the Army’s offer of a transfer to Aberdeen.
During the 90-minute inactivation and color encasement ceremony, held Tuesday in front of Russel Hall at Fort Monmouth, the base’s Garrison Colors were carried out by an honor guard as a military band played “The Army Goes Rolling Along” and choppers from McGuire Air Force Base executed a flyover.
“This is an installation that has served our nation with pride and distinction for nearly a century,” said Davis D. Tindoll, Jr., the Army Installation Management Command’s Atlantic Regional director. “Fort Monmouth will always have an enduring place in our nation’s history.”
The final chapter for Fort Monmouth has yet to be written. An ambitious $1-billion redevelopment plan for the fort and surrounding areas has been stalled in Washington for three years, prompting a recent complaint from Gov. Chris Christie.
In a May 25 letter to U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, Christie urged HUD to expedite its review of the redevelopment plan and approve it before the base officially closed this week. As this is being written, New Jersey is still waiting for an answer.
“The timely approval of the application is critical so that we do not miss time-sensitive economic development opportunities,” Christie said in his letter to HUD. “Please know that the closing of the Fort Monmouth Army base has been a staggering economic blow to New Jersey, especially the residents and businesses of Monmouth and Ocean counties.” According to Christie, the financial impact of the fort’s closure on the state is expected to reach as much as $1 billion.
The reuse plan calls for $1 billion in construction across the fort’s three host towns of Oceanport, Tinton Falls and Eatontown, which would all get new town centers. About 1,500 total residential units also would be built, 375 of which are to be affordable housing. In addition to residential development, the plan includes hotels, a medical facility and a substantial amount of both office space and open space.
The redevelopment plan, which was completed and approved by the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority (FMERPA) in 2008, has been awaiting approval by HUD since September 2008. The plan’s approval, Christie stated, will allow the Army to begin the process of turning over portions of the fort’s 1,127 acres to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) for redevelopment.
“Numerous possible employers and investors have already expressed interest in participating in the post-closure redevelopment activity,” he wrote. “But New Jersey and the U.S. Army are rapidly approaching a point where we will be unable to proceed with the transfer and redevelopment of this prime piece of property unless HUD approves the pending application.”
Despite Gov. Christie’s insistence that HUD speed up its approval process, local officials have expressed differing opinions on how effective the plan would be. Oceanport Councilman Joseph Irace recently said the plan is not viable in its current form. At the time of its adoption by FMERPA in 2008, the plan drew significant opposition from Oceanport and Tinton Falls. The Oceanport and Tinton Falls councils eventually voted against the plan; however, it still garnered enough FMERPA votes to move forward.
Under the redevelopment plan, Oceanport will receive 419 acres of Fort Monmouth for the construction of 700 units of residential development, a community retail center, a medical and educational campus, the reuse and expansion of the McAfee Center, and 229 acres of open space.
The plan for Eatontown’s 450-acre share of Fort Monmouth includes a town center with 300 units of mixed-income residential housing, a CECOM incubator and offices, space for additional offices and research and development facilities, the preservation of the existing Sun Eagles golf course, and the possible reuse of Mallett Hall as a new municipal complex for the borough. The plan also features a 150-room hotel and conference center at the golf course.
The 250-acre Tinton Falls portion of the reuse plan provides for a town center and preserves the fort’s existing childcare and youth centers, but reserves 670,000 square feet to be devoted to office and research and development space.
Here’s hoping that federal, state and local officials all get their act together and make sure that Fort Monmouth, which served the nation for decades, is transformed into a job-creating engine for the entire area.