Some communities have been hit hard economically by the shuttering of U.S. military bases, but work underway at Fort Monmouth may help its nearby communities recover more quickly. The once vacant facility, where radar and other military technology were developed, is undergoing a major revitalization aimed at bringing greater prosperity to the area and regaining its former stature as a major hub of technological innovation.
As part of Fort Monmouth’s master redevelopment and reuse plan, government officials, real estate companies and other local businesses are working together to rejuvenate the property, with a view to drawing more technology companies to the sprawling former Army base, which is spread across Monmouth County’s communities of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls.
Recently, the state’s economic development agency awarded Monmouth County, in partnership with the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), New Jersey Institute of Technology and the New Jersey Innovation Institute, a $100,000 innovation grant to find ways to help turn the former military installation into an emerging tech destination. Monmouth County was one of nine New Jersey cities or counties to receive grants funded by the state’s Innovation Challenge Program, part of Gov. Phil Murphy ’s economic development agenda.
The study includes exploring the possibility of building a tech incubator or accelerator as part of the redevelopment of the combined 450,000 square feet of space at the fort’s McAfee Center and an adjacent property located on a 50-acre parcel in Oceanport.
The 90,000-square-foot, two-story McAfee Center and other nearby office and warehouse buildings form the centerpiece of the fort’s planned tech mecca, which will be surrounded by facilities to be used for arts, entertainment, recreational and educational purposes. The property is expected to be put on the market in early 2019.
Built in 1997 as a research and development center, the McAfee Center includes offices, a 2,400-square-foot raised-floor lab, warehouse space and an anechoic chamber designed to absorb sound and electromagnetic waves. “There was a lot of groundbreaking research done here,” said David E. Nuse, deputy executive director at FMERA.
Besides the McAfee Center complex, other building projects planned for the fort include an RJWBarnabas Health facility, a New Jersey City University satellite campus, retail stores and other commercial properties. The fort’s other redevelopment projects include the recent opening of a 68-unit residential development and plans for additional housing.
The fort’s resurgence is a dramatic departure from the days following its closure, in 2011. At that time, the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure process forced the transfer of the base’s operations to Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland. That resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs for military and civilian personnel working at the fort and in the surrounding communities, which were heavily dependent on the base as a vital economic engine.
But worries of an uncertain future for the fort have now mostly faded, given the substantial progress made after its closure. Redevelopment efforts have attracted a sizable mix of commercial and residential projects. To date, nearly $1 billion has been spent on the fort’s revitalization, which includes more than 30 properties sold or currently in negotiation. As for employment at the fort, projections call for the creation of 10,000 jobs, which will more than replace those that were lost as a result of the base’s closure.
Even before the base was closed for good, those involved in finding other uses for the fort had set their sights on the technology sector as a fitting replacement for the base’s economic activities. Since its formation, in 2010, FMERA has focused on technology as the best way to revive the fort, according to Nuse.
So far, the agency’s efforts have contributed to the growth of some technology companies at the fort. These include information-management software firm Commvault and defense contractor AASKI Technology, both headquartered in Tinton Falls, and Oceanport-based cloud services provider TetherView. These companies together have over 1,000 employees working on the property, and they have plans for further expansion.
AASKI CEO Bharat Parikh said the fort’s location has played an integral role in his company’s growth since it was founded, more than two decades ago. “We started our careers here, we started our company here, we continue to grow here, and we take our inspiration from the pioneers who worked at Fort Monmouth before us. Fort Monmouth is an ideal location to build our business, with the highly qualified workforce available in the area, and to help the military lead advances in communications into the next decade.”
TetherView CEO Michael Abboud, in a prepared statement, added: “The TetherView team enjoys the work, live, play environment the Fort has to offer. Being an hour from New York and Philadelphia allows us to attract great talent and provides easy access to clients.”
Nuse said that Fort Monmouth is ideally suited for technology-focused companies and their employees because it’s in an area that’s blessed with a growing number of tech companies, as well as an affluent and highly educated population. “This area is so unique because we have such a high quality of life. We have all of the ingredients here.”
According to a report done for FMERA by a consultant firm on the fort’s redevelopment, over 40 percent of the area residents have a graduate degree, over two dozen technology and innovation companies are located on or near the Fort Monmouth grounds, and more than 1,700 professional and scientific firms are within a 20-minute drive from the property.
FMERA and others are touting a number of the fort’s existing and planned amenities that are intended to help lure companies and their employees, particularly millennials and younger workers. They include a planned brewery, a renovated marina, a performance center, restaurant, gym, bowling alley and a shuttle service, among other features. Its proximity to beaches and nearby cultural destinations is also considered an attractive benefit that could help persuade companies to set up shop there.
While the fort’s redevelopment is largely being driven by the attraction of a cluster of technology companies, other factors need to be considered in revitalizing the nearly 100-year-old former military base. “We’re looking for a holistic community, not something that is just business driven. We want something that is unique to the area,” said Sarah Giberson, FMERA’s senior marketing and development officer ‒ real estate. “With two square miles of space, we think we have an opportunity to accomplish that goal.”