Fort Officials Contemplate Sports Fields Proposal

July 31, 2018
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By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |

Officials are examining a proposal by Oceanport Mayor Jay Coffey to use Fort Monmouth’s Parade Grounds for soccer and
lacrosse fields. Photo by Laura D.C. Kolnoski

OCEANPORT – A proposal to utilize Fort Monmouth’s former Parade Grounds for local sports fields has entered the review process following a written request by borough Mayor John “Jay” Coffey, but officials warned answers could be months away. The high-profile site inside the fort’s Oceanport Avenue entrance is currently designated as historic/open space. No structures can be built there.

Coffey submitted a letter outlining his proposal to the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), the state/county/local agency charged with selling off the fort’s 1,127 acres spanning three towns – Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls.

The Parade Grounds front Russel Hall, a former U.S. Army administration building that now houses several businesses and the county’s new Veterans Services satellite office. Flanking the grounds are new townhomes and apartments under construction in buildings that once served as Officers Housing. The entire area is part of the fort’s largest designated Historic District, housing U.S. Army buildings representing different architectural eras of the fort’s almost 100-year history.

Also there, along the Avenue of Memories (Route 537), is Oceanport’s evolving new municipal complex. Borough police are already headquartered there and a new Borough Hall is planned. A small park was recently added, comprised of monuments relocated to the more accessible location from other fort areas, joining the Greeley Field World War II monument. In the middle of the Parade Grounds is Cowan Park, where the American flag flies. Cement stanchions connected by iron chains border the space.

“FMERA received a letter from the mayor requesting transfer of property from Greeley Field and Cowan Park to Oceanport,” confirmed Bruce Steadman, FMERA executive director, July 18. “We receive a number of requests and letters from people seeking fort parcels. We review them in accordance with our Redevelopment Plan.”

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Steadman noted that such uses are “quite common” elsewhere in the United States, hosting youth and family events. “It’s a really great use,” he said, adding, “FMERA hasn’t determined how Cowan Park and the Parade Grounds will be used. Oceanport may not be entitled to it. We could contract with a private company that would maintain and operate the fields. There’s quite a bit of thought on how Greeley and Cowan could be used and owned. We hope to resolve that in six months to a year.”

A National Register of Historic Places nomination was prepared for the district and submitted in 1983 after fort buildings were surveyed to determine their historic significance by the Army Corps of Engineers and New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office. A total of 136 fort buildings, structures and objects were identified as eligible for listing on the National Register. While the Parade Grounds were never listed as the nomination was not “technically complete,” it was determined eligible. Steadman said such nominations are generally considered finalized.

“Some properties remain in the nominated stage indefinitely,” Steadman explained. “As with all properties within the historic district, that’s the way we’re treating it. It’s in the pipeline and will be considered in the future. There are so many projects ahead of it in the queue, we just haven’t gotten to it yet. I can say we will do what’s best for the historic district and what’s best to support and facilitate the fort’s redevelopment.”

“Oceanport’s plan is exclusionary,” said Freeholder Deputy Director Lillian Burry, the county’s FMERA representative. “Why not put benches there and let the public enjoy it? I’m not opposed to soccer fields. We have enough fort acreage to be able to find someplace else.” Burry chairs FMERA’s Veterans Sub- Committee and initiated the establishment of the fort’s new Veterans Services Office opened this spring. She and other members said they only learned of Coffey’s proposal by reading about it in The Two River Times. Steadman said there are other sites in Oceanport that could potentially be used for sports fields.

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Coffey, an attorney who was working in Bayonne, was not present and no other Oceanport representative attended the July 18 FMERA meeting. Reached in California via phone July 23, Coffey called the site “a centerpiece” of Oceanport that should be serving all borough youth and parents.

“Oceanport has a very limited amount of green space like that and existing parks are not optimal for sports fields,” Coffey said, adding, “The uses (sports and historic/open space) are not mutually exclusive. The Marching Grounds can be multipurpose. Since play time is limited, other activities could be held there in addition to sports. Having it lined for soccer doesn’t preclude other types of events. I understand the historic significance of the site. I also understand that playing fields are hard to find. The Marching Grounds were used for athletic events when the Army was there. It’s perfect for soccer and lacrosse.”

“As each fort property is sold, it officially goes on the local tax rolls,” Coffey continued. “Those acres are part of Oceanport. The sole purpose of FMERA is to transfer those properties.”

This article was first published in the July 26-Aug. 2, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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