New Jersey has a rich history in the film industry, claiming many movie firsts: The first movie studio in the country was in West Orange, and Fort Lee was once the film capital of the world before they moved things out to Los Angeles.
Now the Garden State may once again become a powerhouse in the industry, as Netflix confirms that it is seeking to transform an abandoned U.S. Army base into a TV and film production capital.
The iconic gates to Fort Monmouth open to a base that is nearly 100 years old and full of history — the first radar signals that bounced off the moon came from Fort Monmouth. Now the state agency heading the base's redevelopment effort, the Forest Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority, is shooting for the moon as it asks for a single buyer for the 289-acre tract of land the base sits on.
The base's main road is lined with tributes to heroes, which will remain in place, as will the gates. It is not known who will get the bid, but the crumbling barracks — currently overrun by weeds and trees — could give way to movie sets, post-production houses and sound stages if Netflix is successful.
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In the ten years since the base closed, the agency has sold off other parcels of land, including the beautiful brick officers quarters, which have been redeveloped into what are now private homes and townhouses.
"I think it's great they're bringing larger industries into this area, because everything is gone now," said Rita Johnson. "Even when I came back today, I said 'There's nothing here.'"
Another neighbor was also excited by the possibility of having Netflix move in, summarizing his position succinctly: "The more people in here, the better."
"Get the fort finished. It's not finished yet, this is the first part — they put a gym down there, a bowling alley. If they open the front part, that would be great," said Tim McDonnell Sr.
The family-owned Americana Diner just up Route 35 is ready to welcome new guests. The establishment has been in business for 35 years, with some of the best years when the fort was at full operation.
"Fifty-two hundred people worked there, we were busy stay and night. Right now, we're forced to close early," said owner George Louzakos. "That would help the business — not only mine, but in the neighborhood, because we are hurting. COVID gave us a problem, we had to shut down for a while."
The mayor of neighboring Tinton Falls was having his weekly Wednesday lunch with his granddaughter at the diner. He worked on the base when it was open, as an civilian electronics engineer.
“It’s a good thing for the towns, at least, because when Fort Monmouth was open, the federal government never paid any taxes," said Mayor Vito Perillo.
Others in the neighborhood said that Netflix moving in would bring plenty of jobs to an area that has struggled in recent years.
Bidding closed in January, with the price for the land at $54 million, although the investment is likely to be ten times that or more. And Netflix may not be the only one vying for it.