By KENNY WALTER
FORT MONMOUTH — The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders is just one vote away from becoming larger players in the future development of Fort Monmouth.
During the Aug. 11 Freeholders meeting, the board introduced a $35 million bond that, if adopted during the Aug. 24 meeting, would fund the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority’s (FMERA) purchase of 560 acres from the U.S. Army as part of phase II of the fort’s redevelopment.
“One of the problems with the Army being involved is, it takes forever to get their approval to move forward on these redevelopment projects,” Craig Marshall, director of the Department of Finance said. “So, FMERA went to the Army to ask if they would be willing to sell phase II of the project, and the Army agreed to do this for a price of $33.5 million.
“So, the county would now be guaranteeing the notes for FMERA to purchase the Army out and eliminating the Army from being involved in the decisions of the development.”
The $35 million bond will take advantage of the county’s triple-A rating from all three major national financial rating agencies over the past 17 years. The AAA rating allows Monmouth County to enjoy the lowest possible interest rate on the loans.
Under the agreement, FMERA will take 25 percent from sale proceeds to pay off the bond principal. Marshall said under that the current timetable, the bond should be paid off within three and a half years.
He also said the county will have protections if the redevelopment of the fort stalls.
“The county will have a mortgage on the entire parcel so that if for any reason the parcels were not selling and FMERA was unable to make debt service payments, the county would have security in the land in order to cover our investment in guaranteeing these bonds,” Marshall said.
However, Freeholder John Curley represented the lone dissenting vote, saying that he wanted both Oceanport and Eatontown to share some of the economic responsibilities with the county.
“I think we are taking too much of a chance,” he said. “This is a precedent that is being set.”
Freeholder Thomas Arnone said the county will have a larger responsibility in ensuring the successful redevelopment of Fort Monmouth.
“The best option for county taxpayers is for the county to assume the leadership role in regard to the Fort Monmouth Reuse Plan,” he said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to ensure the property is returned to its once vital place in the economy of our county, and by guaranteeing the sale of these bonds we take an active role in the future successes for the site.”
Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey also said FMERA and Oceanport will be better served without the Army involved.
“Combined, Fort Monmouth and Monmouth Park make up about 690 acres of a town that is only 2,400 acres,” he said. “This financing takes a player out of the equation.
“It is essentially addition by subtraction. We are removing a bureaucracy that has slowed things down and taking it completely out of play. We will have one less approval to gain and one less hurdle to jump.”
Coffey said during the Aug. 18 Oceanport Borough Council meeting that the county bound will help facilitate Oceanport’s expected move of borough hall to Fort Monmouth.
FMERA’s goal is to develop 1,585 housing units; 300,000 square feet of nonprofit, civic, government and educational space; 500,000 square feet for retail; and 2 million square feet devoted to offices, research and other commercial uses.
The key to success is targeting firms that specialize in cutting-edge information and communications technologies. FMERA is hoping to capitalize on the area’s high income level, its educated workforce, the convenience to public transportation and the Garden State Parkway and the fact that young college graduates favor living and working in the area.
FMERA anticipates constructing housing and retail first, followed by small tech companies and business incubators before attempting to secure corporate anchors.