High-tech work likely to continue at Fort Monmouth

March 18, 2008 7:20:52 PM PDT
High-tech research would continue at Fort Monmouth after the Army leaves in 2011 under a redevelopment plan that envisions nearly $1 billion in construction to add shopping, housing and hotels. It could take about 20 years, however, to fully replace the 5,500 jobs and billions of dollars generated by the fort, planners acknowledged Tuesday.

The construction costs, which could be borne by private developers or public entities, do not include the price of acquiring some 1,100 acres from the Army. That price has not yet been set.

The draft plan is the first comprehensive blueprint for what might replace the fort since the Army communications and research center was targeted for closing by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

"We have a tremendous asset in the fort," said Timothy N. Delorm, a vice president of EDAW Inc., a planning firm that produced the preliminary plan after dozens of meetings with citizens around the fort region. "This has some of the most highly trained people in the state."

Delorm and others gave the media an overview of the plan at the Eatontown offices of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority ahead of a public meeting Wednesday at Monmouth Regional High School in Tinton Falls. The fort is part of those towns and Oceanport. Their mayors said the plan is a good starting point.

As expected, the plan combines different uses.

In general, heavy commercial uses are closest to the Garden State Parkway, at the western edge of the fort. A combination of retail and housing is envisioned by the fort's arched brick gates along bustling Route 35. A small hotel and spa is proposed at the eastern edge along the Shrewsbury River.

In between would be nearly 1,500 homes and apartments, with 25 percent of them set aside for low- and moderate-income residents, along with shopping and dining centers, offices and labs. All would be connected by about six miles of bike paths and walkways allowing for car-free commuting and living.

The fort's 18-hole golf course would remain, but under a private developer who could build a 150-room hotel and conference center, according to the preliminary plan.

Following public comment, the draft is to be finalized by late June. After more comment, it must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in September. Once approved, the Army will be able to market the plan to developers.

The fort's payroll for about 5,500 workers approaches $500 million and its overall economic impact is estimated at $2.5 billion annually by the state Commerce, Economic Growth & Tourism Commission. That includes money spent locally by workers and support jobs that involve about 22,000 people.

Planners expect the fort area to eventually employ 5,000 people, at salaries averaging over $60,000, about one-third higher than the county average. But those levels may not be reached for 20 years.

"It has the capability of developing a lot faster than that, but history tells us not to be too optimistic," said Frank C. Cosentino, executive director of the revitalization authority.

Nearly all the fort's workers are civilians, and it is unclear how many will want to relocate to Maryland, where work has started on Fort Monmouth's future home at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The fort has been a mainstay in Monmouth County since 1917, and now specializes in military communications and electronics research.

In addition to office buildings, laboratories and townhomes, the base has a 20-lane bowling alley, a strip mall, 600-seat chapel, and a fitness center with indoor pool.

The golf course, 74-slip marina and a number of athletic fields have already been cleared to remain open space.

On the Net:

Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority: http://nj.gov/fmerpa/

Fort Monmouth information: http://www.monmouth.army.mil/C4ISR/