Nobody's Getting Any Building on Fort Monmouth for $1, Redevelopers Say
The redevelopment team rebuts recent reports that Brookdale will acquire Armstrong Hall for a dollar, making Eatontown's future at Mallette Hall seem dubious.
A report last week that Brookdale Community College was interested in acquiring a building on Fort Monmouth triggered a flurry of excitement among local officials and political candidates. It wasn't the college's interest in Armstrong Hall that had everyone buzzing though, it was that the report incorrrectly stated that BCC would get it for $1.
According to the head of the fort's redevelopment authority, that's not going to happen.
The director of the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) -- charged with overseeing requests like this for the Army-owned property -- acknowledged that his group was in talks with BCC, but said the report that the deal could be had for $1 was off the mark.
"The Army is requiring fair market value for every property," Bruce Steadman, executive director of FMERA told Patch last week.
Steadman noted that there will likely be exceptions to that requirement, but that, "There is no one on the FMERA team that believes that any NOI (notice of interest) property will be transfered at a dollar."
"Every dollar that we make (from sales or leases) must be invested back into the geographic footprint of the fort for recouping lost jobs," Steadman said. "It could take $100-$125 million to fix up that property. We can't afford to give stuff away and the Army certainly doesn't want to give anything away."
Steadman said FMERA has asked the Asbury Park Press, which ran the story, for a retraction of the Brookdale report, which came out of a BCC Board of Trustees meeting. The usually tight-lipped authority also said that while it is now public knowledge that it is in talks with the college about a building at the fort, it would have never revealed that to anyone.
"We keep all of our confidential real estate negotiations, confidential," Steadman said. According to Steadman, a BCC official called him to apologize for the story and said the report came from a misinterpretation of comments at the meeting about a different property, that BCC acquired, which is not related to the fort.
Notions of free property divide Eatontown officials
In Eatontown, where acquiring a fort building for almost no cost has been a hot topic, the council is divided over Mayor Gerald Tarantolo's push to acquire Mallette Hall, complete with bullet proof glass, outdoor amphitheater and geothermal capabilities, for a new municipal complex. Tarantolo has claimed publicly that the borough is busting out of it's current space on Broad Street, where file cabinets line the halls and police are forced to interview subjects in the hallway.
The way Tarantolo sees it, the Army owes Eatontown for educating it's children for decades. Tarantolo claims that though the borough received some funding from the federal government to pay for the education of soldiers' children, there was a shortfall of $28 million.
"That's my rationale for asking for the building as a gift," he said in an interview with Patch on Monday.
Tarantolo has moved forward with the assumption that Mallette Hall will be gifted to the town, however, as Patch reported this summer, the mayor's claim that he could get the building for free was never substantiated.
Councilman Dennis Connelly has been vocal in his opposition of the mayor's plan as a waste of time and money. This summer he and other council members said they wanted confirmation that Eatontown could get the building at no cost and asked the mayor for a letter from FMERA substantiating his claim. According to Connelly, the mayor never produced one.
With Connelly and two other members of council voting against it, the council voted to spend $17,000 to have an architect study the cost of converting the building for municipal use.
On Monday Connelly told Patch, "I don't feel we should spend taxpayer money on a study if we don't know if we can get the building for free."
That study is now under way, but it could be in vain if Eatontown isn't eligible for the conveyance of the property.
Getting property from the Army is not a simple process.
Qualified government agencies and non-profits can apply for federal property under what is called a public benefit conveyance, which has different categories such as education, justice and parks. In 2006 when redevelopers solicited requests for NOIs they did so under the purview of the public benefit conveyance program. That program naturally weeded out some requests that didn't fall under the program guidelines. What started as about 45 NOIs is now about 20, FMERA said. (This conveyance program no longer applies to the fort's redevelopment. Read more about it here.)
This is where the story gets a little fuzzy.
According to the guidelines of the program, if Eatontown had put in an NOI for 57,000 sq. ft. building in 2006 it would not have been granted. There is no category for a municipal building in the conveyance plan.
But according to FMERA officials, the authority never received an official NOI from Eatontown for Mallette Hall. It does have a copy of a letter from Tarantolo to the Army expressing Eatontown's interest in the site. And Eatontown's use of Mallette Hall is listed on the Reuse and Redevelopment Plan produced in 2006. For Tarantolo this is further proof that his borough will get the building. FMERA says this merely shows "an ability to accommodate" the request and says it has "complete authority" over the redevelopment of the property, even if that means changing the plan by a vote of the board.
Mayor Tarantolo told Patch on Monday that he is waiting for the right time to present his case to FMERA board (of which he is a member) and the public.
How Tarantolo's case will be received by the board may have less to do with what Eatontown is "owed" by the Army and more to do with the municipality's ability to show that it will return lost jobs to the site. If Eatontown wants the building it may have to pay fair market value and it may even have to go up against any interested developers with job plans.
If a municipality, or a school like Brookdale, for instance, has a notice of interest on a property, even if it fits within the reuse plan, it could be trumped by an investor who presents a solid plan for job generation at that same site.
"That's FMERA's responsibility to the Army and to the taxpayers of New Jersey," said Executive Director Steadman. "We want everyone to take off their parochial hat and put on the hat of the taxpayer of the U.S., of New Jersey and the county."