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The post that dodged a bullet

Eight years after being shut down, Fort Monmouth makes a comeback

When Fort Monmouth was shuttered in 2011 as part of a cost-cutting move — six years after the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission called for the closure — it meant the loss of approximately 5,500 Army employees and 2,700 contract employees. While portions of the three boroughs in which the fort is situated — Tinton Falls, Eatontown and Oceanport — would be directly affected, there were fears that the economic riptide would be felt for miles around.

When a major employer shuts down or dramatically downsizes, the surrounding community can suffer for years, or even decades. Think of Detroit, where the unemployment rate hit nearly 30 percent in June 2009 thanks to crippling cutbacks in the automobile industry — with the city’s employment rate continuing to trail the U.S. — and Bethlehem Steel’s 2001 bankruptcy, which pummeled the economy in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley for more than a decade.

But Monmouth County was able to dodge that bullet, thanks largely to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), a state entity created by statute in 2010. Designed to encourage new and relocating businesses to take advantage of the State’s wide array of financing and business incentive programs, FMERA collaborates with a host of entities, including the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Choose New Jersey, New Jersey Business Action Center, and the county government. To date, FMERA has replaced about 1,500 of the lost jobs, and anticipates creating a total of about 10,000.

A sound infrastructure

The success started with the bones of the area, according to FMERA Deputy Executive Director and Director of Real Estate Dave Nuse. “Monmouth County is both extremely attractive for businesses and as a residential community,” he said. “It’s got numerous assets such as an existing entrepreneurial ecosystem; high-quality school systems including magnet schools and universities; a central location; a blossoming live, work, play community; and proximity to the shore.”

 

The county also has an affluent and highly educated workforce, with more than 42 percent of the population holding a college degree, a third of which are advanced degrees, “making Fort Monmouth an ideal location for corporate headquarters and small businesses,” Nuse added. “With the Little Silver train station just half a mile away from the Fort, workers and residents have convenient access to New York City, Newark International Airport, local beaches, and other cultural icons like the Count Basie [Theatre] in Red Bank and the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. In addition to the region’s incredible human capital, the Fort is well-positioned near restaurants, shopping, and coastal waterways—including a 70-plus slip marina.”

A helping hand

FMERA helps to leverage all that. “When established by the New Jersey State Legislature, FMERA was also given its own set of land use rules and regulations, as well as a master plan known as the Fort Monmouth Reuse and Redevelopment Plan,” Nuse added, noting it leveraged the input of “numerous stakeholders at the state, county, and local level; and guides the overall development of Fort Monmouth. The Reuse Plan may be amended by FMERA’s Board as development continues and community needs shift to encourage the highest and best use of each parcel. The Reuse Plan and the amendment process act as an important control to ensure that the Fort is redeveloped with an appropriate mix of businesses, community amenities, and residential units that will attract businesses and generate jobs.”

Among other guidelines, the Reuse Plan capped the number of residential units at 1,585 to prevent overdevelopment of residential activity, and to ensure that some of the site provided open space for active and passive recreational opportunities. The Reuse Plan also sought to ensure that sites are developed with amenities aimed at creating “an organic supportive development,” Nuse said. “FMERA’s land use rules and regulations are used by FMERA as well as all three boroughs during the site plan review, which streamlines the process. Each borough is represented on our board, and is involved in the decision-making process.”

So far, it seems to be working. FMERA projects, which are expected to attract a total of $2 billion of investments during the next decade should spur “tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue to the three boroughs,” Nuse said. “Current development has resulted in approximately $1.5 million in tax revenue to date, and is expected to increase substantially in 2019 as more businesses and residential units come online.”

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