By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
OCEANPORT – The Loft at Oceanport has been chosen as the name for a new microbrewery, restaurant, coffee shop and entertainment complex expected to transform Fort Monmouth’s former Dance Hall over the next year.
Fuller “Trip” Brooks, co-founder of Regional Development Group, LLC, which purchased the 4.2-acre property from the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) and closed on it last month, said he hopes the project will go before the township Planning Board within the next 60 days. Once approval is secured, Brooks said he expects construction to take nine to 12 months, adding no variances are being sought.
“We are excited to have finally taken title of this property and have a nice plan for the site,” Brooks said. “We moved it through the FMERA process successfully and met all their criteria.” Conceived as a community gathering spot, Loft at Oceanport will be created through adaptive reuse of the 16,420-square-foot building as “a dynamic, multipurpose indoor/outdoor dining and event space,” according to Sarah Giberson, FMERA senior marketing and development officer. The interior features an open floor plan with an exposed wood truss ceiling that retains the building’s 1940’s era historic ambiance.
Like some other fort properties and locations throughout Oceanport, the Dance Hall was severely damaged by Super Storm Sandy in 2012 and therefore will require extensive remediation work in addition to the renovations needed to create the new venue.
“Most of the roof disappeared,” Brooks said. “It needs to be taken down and rebuilt.” Brooks is also president of Asbury Partners Development LLC, which originally purchased the site last year. He said the same partners created Regional Development Group LLC and transferred the property to that entity to continue its development now that the project is moving forward. He and his partners develop and construct residential and commercial projects throughout New Jersey and New York, with several located in Asbury Park.
The developer has also committed to the beautification and maintenance of Van Kirk Park, adjacent to the Dance Hall, which will remain open space. Brooks said he’s already had a crew there removing a fallen tree and is preparing a landscape plan to beautify the site, adding trees and plantings, and ensuring ongoing maintenance. Zoning allows for a summer stage, which will host outdoor performances in season. About 100 cars can be parked there as well.
FMERA officials noted that a microbrewery was not originally envisioned in redevelopment plans for the site, but they determined Asbury Partners’ “outside-the-box” proposal was a viable redevelopment alternative. Upon examination, the plan was deemed compliant by a FMERA evaluation committee and the parcel was sold “as is” for $120,000 last year.
“The developers plan to create a place for locals, workers and community members to enjoy a conversation, grab a warm coffee or perhaps imbibe,” Giberson said. “We’re looking to attract a new wave of tech innovators, creative thinkers and engaged citizens to the campus we’re creating at Fort Monmouth. Diversifying the fort’s redevelopment gives us an opportunity to be competitive with vibrant, nearby towns and even New York City. Access to culture, specialty food and drink, and quality outdoor space are all a part of the equation.”
As required through FMERA agreement, the purchaser is obligated to create 48 permanent, full-time jobs at the property within 18 months of occupancy or pay a penalty. Brooks said the restaurant aspect of the complex alone should generate that amount.
This article was first published in the April 26-May 3, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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