By Walter J. O’Neill, Jr.
I have lived in Oceanport for over 50 years. As a youngster, I worked at the dry cleaners located on Main Street that was owned by the Gennarellis. That shop catered to the thousands of soldiers who were stationed at Fort Monmouth.
While in eighth grade I took a job at the stables at Monmouth Park Race Track, and eventually while in High School was the lifeguard at the jockey pool in the club house. Just about every kid growing up in the borough had some type of summer job at the track.
Living on the Jersey Shore you knew that summer days would be filled with traffic jams as thousands flocked to the beach and the track. Growing up in Oceanport I never imagined a town without the track or the fort.
However, 2011 is a wake-up call for me and all the other residents of Oceanport. Fort Monmouth is closed, and the possibility of a summer without racing was looming until a few days ago.
In September, the US Army pulled out of the fort, leaving three local towns with thousands of empty buildings and miles of deserted property. Tinton Falls, Eatontown and Oceanport were the victims of the base closing, and the victims of a redevelopment plan that hardly had any local input.
Tinton Falls and Eatontown would see the majority of business redevelopment while Oceanport would get hit with the largest residential redevelopment. The first plan called for 2,500 new homes, but the governing body made enough waves that the plan was cut back to 700 homes.
Currently, Oceanport has over 100 homes for sale, which is about 10 percent of its private residential properties. The redevelopment plan for Fort Monmouth within the Oceanport boundaries does not call for an additional school to help educate the new potential families. The government experts say that of those 700 new homes only 70 children will be of school age, so Oceanport will not need a new school.
Governor Christie stated that the state was not in the horse racing business, so he put Monmouth Park out for bid after New Jersey lost $6 million last year. Real estate mogul Morris Bailey won the bid and was expected to sign a five-year lease.
Bailey had plans for the entire family, with theme park type of activities and upscale restaurants and shopping areas. However, negotiations between the state and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association on the number of race days and amount of purses forced Bailey, who owns a casino in Atlantic City, to walk away.
Last week Christie stated that the track would close unless a deal with the horsemen could be reached. Do you know how to make a small fortune in horseracing? Start with a large fortune, is what someone close to the negations told me.
It appears that the Governor and the horsemen have reached a last minute deal to save the track. However, the amount of purses will be the lowest on the eastern seaboard; Monmouth Park will not have slot machines or gambling areas like most race tracks today. This will definitely cut down on the number of people who will attend the live racing in Oceanport.
It is expected that some of the employees at Monmouth Park will not be returning. Under Bailey’s plan anyone who would be hired back was starting off with a 20 percent cut in pay. Even the horsemen will have to find ways to stop the bleeding, and that starts with cutting jobs.
It is also rumored that the second largest employer in Oceanport, Commvault, will be relocating out of the borough. It seems that the government has offered a large tax break for the company which employs 600 people to relocate four miles away to a recently vacated building on Fort Monmouth in Tinton Falls.
The economic impact on the residents of Oceanport with the loss of the Fort Monmouth and the expected cost and burdens with the redevelopment, loss of Monmouth Park or at least the dwindling numbers and now the possibility of 600 jobs leaving is overwhelming.
Michael Mahon, the honorable mayor, and his council have been trying to voice the concerns for Oceanport residents with federal and state authorities. It appears that the borough is a small part of a larger plan, and its local concerns are not those of the big decision makers.
Originally published Dec. 22, 2011