FREEHOLD, NJ – The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders have advanced a plan to guarantee up to $35 million in notes and bonds through the Monmouth County Improvement Authority (MCIA) to aid with the revitalization of the now-shuttered Fort Monmouth property. The bond plan progressed at a public hearing Thursday setting the stage for final approval later this month.
“The best option for county taxpayers is for the County to assume the leadership role in regard to the Fort Monmouth Reuse Plan. We have a responsibility to ensure the property is returned to its once vital place in the economy of our county, and by guaranteeing the sale of these bonds we take an active role in the future successes for the site,” said Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone.
Through the County authorization, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) will acquire 560 acres from the United States Army as part of the Phase II redevelopment efforts at the former military installation. The large parcel encompasses land within the boroughs of Eatontown and Oceanport, and is expected to deliver a much-needed economic boost to the region.
“The potential impact of this tremendous redevelopment on the quality of life, tax revenue, amenities and overall living standard for the three boroughs, the county and our residents is enormous, and its many benefits will be enjoyed for decades to come,” said Freehold Lillian G. Burry, who serves as the County freeholder representative on the FMERA board.
The $35 million bond guaranty takes advantage of the County’s prestigious triple-A rating from all three major national financial rating agencies over the past 17 years. The AAA rating allows the County to enjoy the lowest possible interest rate on the loans. The AAA ratings reflect Monmouth County’s consistently sound financial management, stable growth and low debt burden, according to reports released by the three bond-rating agencies. Monmouth is the only county in New Jersey and one of less than three dozen counties in the nation that can claim to have received the highest score from the three rating agencies.
But Freeholder John P. Curley, who was the lone dissenting vote for the bond authorization, has argued he wants to see the local municipalities who will benefit the most from the project to be involved in guarantying the bonds.
“The financial structure of the deal should be revised to include the participating municipalities ensuring equity of financial obligation, and the ultimate say in the decision-making process. The municipalities should have the ultimate say in the land use of their communities as designed in their respective master plan” said Curley.
When the Department of Defense announced the closing of Fort Monmouth in 2005, the economic impact was expected to be severe. That fear became reality when more than 5,600 jobs were lost or transferred out of New Jersey. Several years after the base closed, there are signs of an economic turnaround in business relocations, housing and mixed use development at the former base. The entire Fort Monmouth property is spread over 1,126 acres in the boroughs of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls.
“This is the right decision for Monmouth County. By guaranteeing these bonds we are helping to support the three boroughs and everyone in Monmouth County. With an estimated market value of more than $90 million for the project, and a total improvement value estimated at about $1 billion over the next ten years, this is a good investment,” said Freeholder Deputy Director Serena DiMaso, liaison to the MCIA.
“The closure of Fort Monmouth brought the ancillary loss of nearly 15,000 jobs. The Fort Monmouth Revitalization Authority has already delivered new jobs on the property, and the sale and potential projects for the site can only enhance those gains exponentially. That alone makes this a good move for Monmouth County,” said Freeholder Gary J. Rich, Sr.
During the public comment portion of the Freeholder meeting, mayors from the three towns directly impacted by the base closure expressed their appreciation for the backing the financing and continuing to support efforts to revitalize the Fort. Comments were made by Eatontown Mayor Dennis J. Connolly, Oceanport Mayor John F. Coffey and Tinton Falls Mayor Gerald M. Turning.
Mayor Coffey explained that just over a third of the acreage in the Borough of Oceanport was not under control of the town. “Combined, Fort Monmouth and Monmouth Park make up about 690 acres of a town that is only 2,400 acres. This financing takes a player out of the equation. It is essentially addition by subtraction. We are removing a bureaucracy that has slowed things down and taking it completely out of play. We will have one less approval to gain and one less hurdle to jump,” said Coffey.
FMERA’s goal is to develop 1,585 housing units; 300,000 square-feet of non-profit, civic, government and educational space; 500,000 square-feet for retail; and 2 million square-feet devoted to offices, research, and other commercial uses. The key to success is targeting firms that specialize in cutting-edge information and communications technologies. FMERA is hoping to capitalize on the area’s high income level, its educated workforce, the convenience to public transportation and the Garden State Parkway and the fact that young college graduates favor living and working in the area.
FMERA anticipates constructing housing and retail first, followed by small tech companies and business incubators before attempting to secure corporate anchors. The J.F. Kiley Group will lease office space to other firms and is negotiating to buy and upgrade additional facilities.
FMERA’s biggest success to date is the relocation of CommVault and its data management operation. More than 900 workers are currently employed at the 650,000 square foot facility which is now CommVault’s new world headquarters. When finished, more than 2,500 employees will work at the Tinton Falls facility.
The Lennare firm has an agreement to convert 50 acres next to CommVault into housing units and a fitness center. Trinity Hall, an all-girls college preparatory high school, will open its doors in September on the Tinton Falls section of the former Fort.
Monmouth County also has several facilities on the former base. In August 2013, the Monmouth County Park System began operating its popular public recreation center with an outdoor pool at the former Fort Monmouth Teen Center. The County has a public works yard on the Eatontown section of the former base and plans are in motion to extend County Route 537 through the former Fort’s front gate in Eatontown to Oceanport.
A public hearing on the authorization of the County guaranty will be held at the next Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23. at the Ocean Township Municipal Building at 399 Monmouth Road in Ocean Township.