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EATONTOWN, NJ-Plan A was the continued operation of Fort Monmouth, but after the BRAC commission voted yesterday to shutter the 88-year-old Army base, three local mayors held a press conference to announce that they had already launched Plan B. The 1,100-acre base is currently home to the Army’s electronics, electronics research and related commands which, under the Pentagon’s plan, would be moved the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Fort Monmouth was on the Pentagon’s list for closure on three earlier occasions, but had survived the cuts, until now.

While asserting that, “our arguments to keep the fort open fell on deaf ears,” Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo insisted “there is life after Fort Monmouth closes.” The main entrance to the fort is located here, although it sprawls over the neighboring communities of Oceanport and Tinton Falls and borders on the communities of Little Silver and Shewsbury.

“We hope that by taking the initiative to address the closure and redevelopment of Fort Monmouth expeditiously, we will lessen the adverse effects of the fort’s closing and start a new economic renaissance for our communities,” Tarantolo said, speaking for and flanked by Oceanport Mayor Maria Gatta and Tinton Falls Mayor Peter Maclearie last night.

The three officials announced at the press conference at this community’s borough hall that as a contingency they had, in June, established what Tarantolo termed “an ad hoc Plan B committee” to study the site’s future in the event of closure and as a first step toward setting up a redevelopment authority. Tarantolo said that the nine members of the committee had already met with the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and had “solicited proposals from professionals” on the ongoing process.

Tarantolo also estimated that it would cost upwards of $3.5 million to construct a redevelopment plan, and said that the communities would seek federal grants and state assistance to pay for it. Fort Monmouth has a workforce of more than 5,500, most of them civilian employees. According to the base’s public affairs office, it generates $3.3 billion in economic activity and supports more than 22,000 ancillary jobs throughout the state.

The BRAC commission’s vote came with the condition that, given the fort’s impact on Army communications and technology relative to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the global war on terror, it can’t be closed until the facilities in Maryland are fully operational. The commission set a deadline of six years, and the move gave some observers hope that a way could be found to get a reprieve for the base. After outlining the communities’ Plan B, Tarantolo termed that “a false hope. It is our obligation as mayors of the surrounding towns to look out for the people and businesses affected by this decision.”

Asked what form a redevelopment might take, Tarantolo suggested the likelihood of mixed uses. Among them: corporate headquarters; high-tech companies, possibly attracted by the base’s existing technology infrastructure; affordable housing or other residential; or another government use.

“Some technical education facility would be ideal, because the people and the facilities are already there,” says Sheldon Gross, president of Sheldon Gross Realty. His West Orange-based firm has a satellite office in nearby Wall Township, and owns and/or manages a number of commercial and industrial properties in the region.”It could possibly house a medical facility, although it’s too big just for that,” Gross tells GlobeSt.com. “Perhaps a major biotech company could come in and share it with other technology firms.”

As far as the impact on the local real estate market, “there’s going to be a lot of space coming onto the market, and it will impact new construction pretty heavily,” Gross says. “I think it will lower real estate values.”

For the longer term, “I did a study on how long it took after other closures for the government to finally turn the land over to developers, and it was from five to 10 years,” Gross says. “For five to 10 years there was an emptiness to the situation, where no one knew what was going to happen. I think the same thing will happen here because the government moves so ponderously.” Coupled with the fort’s anticipated six-year shut-down process, that five- to 10-year turnover scenario could mean a 10- to 15-year period before redevelopment even begins, in Gross’ estimation.

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