FORT MONMOUTH – Describing it as a giant step forward, Freeholder Director Lillian Burry took the first steps in officially opening the two mile section of County Road 537 that runs through the former Fort Monmouth property and has, for all intents and purposes, always been closed to the general public. The road connects State Highway 35, more commonly known as Main St., Eatontown, to Oceanport Ave, also known as County Route 11 in Oceanport.
But Burry, all the members of the Board of Freeholders and other officials at the festive ceremony yesterday morning all expressed thanks and appreciation to the County public Works and Engineering personnel who completed the work to return the Avenue of Memories to public use. The County installed temporary fencing, new signage, repaired traffic singles, made drainage system repairs and improvements, as well as realigned, reconfigured and repaved sections of the road to bring it up to the Monmouth County’s road specifications.
The Freeholder Director briefly outlines the history of Fort Monmouth and her own involvement from 2005, when the army base was officially ordered closed through BRAC and the operation was moved to Aberdeen, Md. through when Governor Jon Corzine named members to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) for the express purpose of revitalization and rebirth of “this 1100 acres of proud history.” Of the original appointees, only Burry and Dr. Bob Lucky, also present at the ceremony, remain, “still committed to the process of reinventing Fort Monmouth,” Burry said. Frank Cosentino was the original executive Director of FMERA.
The BRAC closure forced Monmouth County to lose 5,000 skilled workers and another 20,000 jobs throughout the area that suffered from the impact of the military and civilian force at work on Fort Monmouth.
A major requirement of FMERA, as well as the freeholders and John Tobia, who headed the work crews who prepared the road for the re-opening, was preserving memories along the Avenue of Memories, Burry continued. As a result the monuments and trees which lined the military road in memory of Signal Corps members who fought in America’s foreign wars remain along the road, refurbished and repaired by employees who “approached the job as almost a religious experience.”
But today’s road is more than that, she said, since it enables the public to reacquaint themselves with what was, and what will be, eases traffic congestion through the local communities and is a positive step in the planned redevelopment of the Fort which in itself impacts the quality of life and overall living standard in Monmouth County.
James V. Gorman, current Chairman of FMERA, also expressed his thanks and appreciation for the focus and attention paid b y everyone, including county residents, to the road repair completion, noting it accelerates progress and economic improvement as well as improves the perspective to see the future for developers.
Former Freeholder Director Tom Arnone gave some personal history in connection with Fort Monmouth, noting he worked for his dad as a teenager when his father was awarded the contract to remove old boilers when the Army was updating systems. Arnone also noted the 1100 acres and two mile road of Fort Monmouth are “bigger than some towns” and can now been looked treated as ratable producing properties.
Adding his thanks to that of all the freeholders and other officials, Arnone said “Success doesn’t happen without the cooperation of the employees, noting the late hours they put in to ensure completion to meet the board’s deadline.
State Senator Jennifer Beck praised local officials for the achievement, and said that while Monmouth County lamented the loss of Fort Monmouth and its significant history, “if you can make lemonade out of a lemon, this project has done just that.” Beck noted that 75 per cent of the land has either been sold, leased or is out to bid, making the revitalization of Fort Monmouth the most successful redevelopment of a closed military installation in the entire United States.
FMERA’s goal is to develop 1,585 housing units, 300,000 square feet of non-[profit, civic and government and educational space, 500,000 square feet for retail, and two million square feet dedicated to offices, research and commercial us.