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Fort Monmouth: Creating a big space for big data

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Les Smith III, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, discusses plans for Fort Monmouth.
Les Smith III, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield, discusses plans for Fort Monmouth. - ()

It will be years before CommVault Systems completes its new headquarters at Fort Monmouth, but the project already has given a boost to the state officials and real estate brokers working to transform the shuttered military base.

Plans for the headquarters — now in its first phase of construction — have buoyed efforts to redevelop other parts of the 1,100-acre property. And experts say landing the fast-growing data management company as an anchor tenant has raised the fort's profile as a potential hub for the technology industry.

“It's excellent to have a name like CommVault coming onto the fort,” said Les Smith III of Cushman & Wakefield, which serves as the state's master broker for the site. “It kind of solidifies our presence — that we're a place where you can do business and build.”

It will take more than one company to give the base its new identity as officials carve up dozens of parcels across sections of Tinton Falls, Eatontown and Oceanport. Those sites house everything from veterans' homes and a chapel to a pistol range and a marina.

But “big data is clearly a target” of the brokerage firm and the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, the state agency at the helm, said Christopher Kinum, another Cushman & Wakefield broker working with the site. Such a plan dovetailed with a summit held last month by the New Jersey Technology Council, which focused on the data center industry and drew some 225 people to the fort's Gibbs Hall.

And while it keyed on how to make the state a data-center hotbed — with its mix of business, academia and infrastructure — the event also was a chance to showcase the fort to more than 100 companies in the field.

“Clearly we're going to make every attempt, from a marketing standpoint, to take advantage of the fact that people in that big data arena have now been exposed to the fort,” said Kinum, the executive director of the firm's global life sciences group.

He noted the summit also drew researchers from some of the state's top colleges and pointed to the model in Albany, N.Y., where partnerships between business and education have made it a hub for nanotechnology over the past two decades.

The stakes are truly high for Fort Monmouth, a U.S. Army base with a rich history of communications research. The outpost had operated for nearly a century when federal budget cuts forced its closure in 2011, sending most of its 5,500 civilian and military jobs to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

As stakeholders now look to revive the fort as a tech hub, one downside is that data centers are “highly technical with a lot of machinery, so that's not a major job creator,” Kinum said. But there's still great potential for creating industry clusters around the facilities, especially with higher education partners.

“If you build them and they're state-of-the-art, normally the ancillary players want to be close by,” he said. “And that's the idea for some form of a tech park.”

The brokers also said that by building a headquarters for some 2,000 workers, CommVault paints Fort Monmouth as more than just a place to stash a server farm. And it showed the state to be a willing partner that wants to move quickly: It took the company nine months to secure approvals and start construction, a process that could take years in New Jersey.

“That's a very good story for us to tell,” said Smith, a senior director with Cushman.

The state's team has since built momentum in redeveloping other sections of the fort, he said. After a competitive bidding process last year, homebuilder K. Hovnanian is in negotiations to build 275 residential units on a parcel in Eatontown.

And officials this month expect to announce buyers for three large parcels in Eatontown and Tinton Falls that could house residential, retail and office space.

The agency also has solicited offers for some of the fort's facilities, including the marina in Oceanport and the shooting range and fire station in Tinton Falls, Smith said.

“It's fast and furious right now,” Smith said.

Meantime, brokers are “getting a lot of phone calls from small high-tech companies in the area that are expressing interest in the fort,” he said. That has created potential demand for the dozens of existing, usable buildings still left on the base and caused the team to explore so-called incubator space there.

And as work progresses on the first phase of CommVault's 650,000-square-foot campus, it's too early to say if and when the fort will land another large commercial tenant. But the team feels it's headed in the right direction.

“Do we have one right now? No, but I'm sure they're out there,” Smith said. “Real estate is a funny business. Tomorrow the phone will ring and you could have your next CommVault.”

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @joshburdnj

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