More than ten years ago, August 24, 2005, the federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission announced that the long years of service at Fort Monmouth would be coming to a close threatening a substantial shock to the county economy. After a protracted and ultimately unsuccessful political and lobbying effort, the end came in September of 2010. But with that end there also came a new beginning.
On August 17, 2010, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization . Authority Act was signed into law creating FMERA, the 13-member body responsible for creating the 20-year plan for converting the former military base into a new economic engine for Monmouth County. With more than 5,000 civilian jobs being directly lost on the base, many of them being scientists and engineers, and a ripple effect that cost 20,000 or more additional jobs in businesses supporting the base, the need for action was urgent and the task was truly daunting. I was nonetheless honored to be chosen as the Monmouth County freeholder representative to serve on the 13-member body. Our first Annual Report described the situation clearly:
"The closure of a military facility is a complex and painful process. Complex because it includes myriad stakeholders, competing initiatives, limited resources, difficult-to-achieve timelines, and the uniqueness of each affected community. Painful because jobs are lost, futures are clouded, and the social fabric of the community is changed forever as the active service men and women relocate to another facility. "
Being fully aware of the magnitude of the challenge, FMERA began to work quickly and get results. This included a long process of public planning by a commercial group along with interested citizens that resulted in a long-range community plan being formulated. The first tangible result came in the fall of 2010 with the opening to the public of the 171-acre Suneagles Golf Course, designed by renowned golf course architect A. W. Tillinghast. Since then the progress has continued and the list of major accomplishments has continued to grow.
- In the fall of 2011 FMERA issued a Request for Proposals for a 55-acre tract located in Tinton Falls that ultimately resulted in the commitment of CommVault, a major computer technology firm, to acquire the site and construct a new 650,000 square foot corporate headquarters expected to initially employ 500 people within 3 years and as many as 2,500 when fully developed.
- In 2012 FMERA signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Army to acquire the entire 1,126 acre fort property in two phases.
- In October of 2012 FMERA signed a lease with Monmouth County for the 10.5 acre Motor Pool site that the County hopes to ultimately acquire to serve as a new Public Works facility to replace one it has outgrown at a savings to the taxpayers of approximately $12 million.
- In December of2012 FMERA approved the takeover of the Teen Center and Pool by the Monmouth County Park System bringing a valuable new recreational resource to the public.
- In 2013 Phase 1of the acquisition totaling just over 600 acres and consisting of Camp Charles Wood and three parcels from the Main Post including the Suneagles Golf Course, the Marina, and Howard Commons was completed.
- In March of 2013 a purchase-sale agreement with AcuteCare was completed and the Patterson Army Health Clinic took on a new medical role with up to 200 new jobs being created.
- In August of2013 the County opened the former Teen Center and Pool facility as the new Fort Monmouth Recreation Center.
- In 2014 the firsts phase of the new CommVault facility opened with 900 new employees.
- In 2015 the final transfer of Phase 2, consisting of the remainder of the Main Post, is being finalized with FMERA taking full ownership with financing through the Monmouth County Improvement Authority. With this step the way is cleared for swifter completion of all future transactions thus marking a major turning point in the FMERA mission.
Already in progress are projects including a new home in the former Child Development Center for Trinity Hall, a girls high school offering education in the Catholic tradition that will serve young women from throughout the county, a new project by Lennar Corporation that will bring 239 new homes and over 100,000 square feet of retail and commercial development to a mixed-use center in the Tinton Falls Reuse Area, and the leasing of 30,000 square feet of space by Aaski Technology, Inc., a defense contractor and telecommunications engineering firm that will consolidate its New Jersey operations at Fort Monmouth instead of moving to Aberdeen, Maryland thereby retaining 105 jobs and creating an additional 25 by 2018. These are only three of the almost two dozen Requests for Offers to Purchase that have been issued, bid upon and are now under active review for sale and development.
With all of this done, there is still more to look forward to in the future. One of my personal priorities throughout the process has been to find new housing for our homeless veterans. While not yet finalized, I am confident that this effort will soon come to a successful conclusion. Other opportunities still remain as well for new businesses and additional housing. But more than that, we are building community assets as well. From the marina to the Recreation Center and Suneagles Golf Course we are adding important public recreational resource. We are creating quality jobs and housing opportunities for the people who will fill them. We are now only five years into a 20-year plan and must remind ourselves that this is a marathon effort and not a sprint. Still, with all of the good works that have been accomplished thus far and are now in sight on the near horizon, it's hard not to be impatient to see the next new things that will build on our already impressive list of major successes. If this is indeed to be a very long race, it's still hard not to see this final acquisition as the turning of a major corner that is now heading us resolutely toward home.
Freeholder Lillian G. Burry
FMERA Authority Member