By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
OCEANPORT – Locating an educational institution on the former Fort Monmouth has long been a goal of the state, county and local agency redeveloping the former U.S. Army base.
Last week, the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) approved a purchase and sale agreement with KKF University Enterprises, LLC, to buy the fort’s two-story Squier Hall and adjacent complex on Sherrill Avenue in Oceanport, now slated to become a satellite campus of New Jersey City University (NJCU). The school’s main campus is in Jersey City.
Developer KKF will pay $2.5 million for the entire parcel, which includes seven buildings on eight acres. The firm will invest a minimum of $10.4 million to renovate approximately 46,000 square feet of the 76,538-square-foot main building and demolish other structures on the property. Space for parking and recreation already exist at the site.
KKF is a member company of PRC Group of West Long Branch, a commercial and residential real estate development, property management and construction firm. In business about 60 years, the PRC Group also develops student housing focused on “providing students the opportunity to experience life in a community setting,” according to the company website. Among PRC’s previous projects are Campus Town at The College of New Jersey near Trenton, student housing at The Peddie School in Hightstown and the redevelopment of University Place on New Jersey City University’s (NJCU) Jersey City campus.
Following renovations at Squier Hall, built in 1935, the property will be leased to NJCU. Squier Hall, considered a prominent fort building that served as the first permanent Signal Corps laboratory there, is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The purchaser will take “all necessary measures to ensure the National Register historic preservation covenants are observed,” said Bruce Steadman, FMERA executive director, who added the authority has already made recommendations to the purchaser regarding façade designs.
South of the Raritan River, the college’s coursework toward bachelor’s and master’s degree completion programs currently takes place at the Wall Higher Education Center – known as NJCU Monmouth – in partnership with Brookdale Community College. Plans are to relocate programs including nursing, national security studies and business to the fort location. The agreement allows for potential development of a residence hall and additional educational buildings to accommodate a student body estimated at up to 800 students.
Opened in 1929 as the New Jersey State Normal School, NJCU was renamed New Jersey State Teachers College in 1935, and Jersey City State College in 1958. It’s current status and name change occurred in 1998.
The agreement between FMERA and KKF University Enterprises makes it clear the satellite campus’s completion and opening could be at least three years away. Prior to closing, KKF must complete its due diligence and obtain all necessary approvals to develop the project. Accommodations for extensions to three planned construction phases – each to be completed within three years – are built into the agreement.
Approximately 58 temporary construction jobs are anticipated, officials said, followed by a minimum of 70 permanent full and part-time jobs to be created within 48 months of closing. As per FMERA rules, the purchaser will incur a penalty of $1,500 for each permanent job not created. KKF will also be responsible for funding a new 2,200-foot sewer main along Sherrill Avenue.
KKF University Enterprises was the sole bidder on the site when it was offered for sale in April 2016. Its proposal was evaluated and scored based on established criteria by a FMERA select committee and found to be compliant. The authority’s original master redevelopment plan called for the Squier Hall complex to be redeveloped for an educational, office or high-tech industry use.
All prospective purchasers of fort parcels must adhere to FMERA’s established criteria or present a reasonable alternative supported by copious backup data. While most redeveloped fort parcels have adhered to FMERA’s plans, the authority has accepted “outside the box” proposals, as Steadman put it. An example is the coming redevelopment of six barracks buildings into an active arts community proposed by local businessman and art gallery owner Kenneth Schwartz.
According to Dave Nuse, FMERA deputy executive director and director of real estate development, 74 percent of the available parcels at the 1,127-acre fort are sold, under contract, in negotiations or entering the process.
“Several projects are ready to break this fall and winter,” Steadman said. “The next six to 12 months will be very exciting around here.”
This article was first published in the Oct. 4-10, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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