Coming to Fort Monmouth: Lifestyle and Retail Hub ‘Freedom Pointe’

February 7, 2017
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Developer Lee Zekaria detailed plans last week for a futuristic version of the standard mall to be created at Fort Monmouth – a gathering place enhanced with leisure-time activities, “Bellagio-style” fountains, and over 300 residences.

Story and photos by Laura D.C. Kolnoski

FORT MONMOUTH – The first shovels to begin construction on Freedom Pointe, “a premier, mixed-use lifestyle destination,” could be in the ground at Fort Monmouth by the end of this year, with completion anticipated for 2019.

Plans for the 89-acre development by Parcel B Redevelopment, LLC, owned by Paramount Realty Services, Inc. of Lakewood, were revealed at a Jan. 26 press conference at the Marina at Oceanport waterfront restaurant.

Paramount and LMS Commercial Real Estate vice president Lee Zekaria described a “walkable town center” with approximately 350,000 square feet of retail and 302 residential units, located directly inside the “Johnson Gates” fronting Route 35 in Eatontown, along the recently re-opened Avenue of Memories. The site was designated “Parcel B” by the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA).

“Freedom Pointe will bring an unparalleled experience to the Jersey Shore,” said Zekaria, a New Jersey native. “We want this to be a second home where people can go before and after work, and on weekends and holidays, to spend quality time and enjoy memorable experiences.” He said the project, which he termed a “crown jewel” of the 1,127-acre fort’s reincarnation, will bring thousands of new jobs to the area.

Freedom Pointe – featuring entertainment, food, grocery, public art, fire pits, two levels of offices, and hospitality – will be one-third residential and two-thirds commercial. Parcel B Redevelopment partnered with Ryan Homes for the townhouses. There will be two levels of parking on each side of the circular development and more on the outskirts. “Bellagio-style” fountains will line the perimeter in a man-made canal. Zekaria promised amenities including bocce ball, an ice-skating rink, and community and holiday events. High-tech will also be incorporated.

“With e-commerce today, we are working on ‘alert technology’ that will give notifications of store sales and more,” he said, adding, “Our area is starving for something like this.” Zekaria traveled the country to view similar developments at Legacy Place and Market Street at Lynnfield, both in Massachusetts, Crocker Park in Ohio, and The Point in El Segundo, California.

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“It takes a special kind of investor to take on a project at a closed military installation,” said FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman. Local and county officials have expressed support for the project, which must secure local approvals including ingress and egress on the Avenue of Memories, an extension of County Route 537. Steadman said 65 percent of fort properties are “now in play” with about 18 different projects.

The press conference followed November’s purchase of the fort by the county from the U.S. Army, and last month’s announcement of the sale of its former Officers Housing where the first residential redevelopment has begun on 117 historic structures along the parade grounds. The developer is RPM Development Group of Montclair.

“Historic renovations are our specialty and we work exclusively in New Jersey,” said Brendan McBride, vice president of RPM Development, adding that the exteriors of the neo-Colonial homes will be preserved. “Crews began construction the day after closing. We were attracted to the fort because the key components are in place – transportation, amenities, jobs, the beach. This will be an entire new neighborhood where people already want to live. We like a development that has a story behind it.” The firm is investing $25 million in the project.

David Nuse, FMERA’s director of real estate development, said the authority’s three redevelopment themes are jobs, development, and creating a unique, desirable environment. Some 5,000 civilian jobs were lost when the fort closed. Nuse said over 1,200 permanent jobs have been created so far.

“Our goal is 10,000 jobs by 2027, with 1,300 housing units currently in play,” he said. “Over $1.5 billion will be invested at Fort Monmouth. Out for bid next are seven historic buildings at Barker Circle. Over 2 million square feet will be out for bid soon. Forty percent of the fort will be open space and recreation. Lifestyle, amenities, and employment opportunities will attract young people to live and work here. We are very optimistic about the fort’s future. “

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“Everywhere I go, people ask me what’s going on at Fort Monmouth,” said FMERA chairman James V. Gorman. “Purchasing the fort was important because before, we had to go through six different departments at the Army and then had to get approval of the Department of Defense. It took an average of 30 months until construction could start (on each project). You will now see things develop rather dramatically.”

Also speaking was Tether view Joint Venture Partner and vi Collaboration Hub Founder Chris Pallé whose cloud solution firm now occupies Russel Hall in Oceanport.

“We’re seeing a trend of technologists and entrepreneurs rising up in Monmouth County,” Pallé said. “By creating an environment that’s conducive to collaboration, that talent is multiplied. The more people come together, the more innovation and ideas we can create. It’s the future of work.”

Hosting the event were members of the Criscione family, now owners and operators of the Marina at Oceanport, the fort’s former marina which was completely rebuilt following Super Storm Sandy. Family member Deanna Queenan said, “In the past year and a half, we have become a part of the community while refining and growing our business. From here you can see the vision at the fort coming to fruition.”

“Fort Monmouth’s redevelopment is extraordinarily important for Monmouth County, and what’s important for Monmouth County is important for New Jersey,” said Timothy Lizura, president and chief operating officer of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and a FMERA board member. “We envisioned this to be a 20-year effort but we are well in advance of that. The team here has done a tremendous job fitting assets into the marketplace and bringing back jobs. We are very pleased with the world class developers and businesses. It will be a sustainable and impressive development.”


Related Story: Among Fort Monmouth Developers, Three Local Residents


This story was originally published in the Feb. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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