By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |FORT MONMOUTH – Retail volatility played a role in a developer withdrawing from a “centerpiece” project of Fort Monmouth’s redevelopment. But the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA) is striving to keep the plan in play.At a January 2017 press conference in Oceanport, Parcel B Redevelopment, LLC, owned by Paramount Realty Services, Inc. of Lakewood, unveiled renderings of Freedom Pointe Town Center, an 89-acre, $130 million “mixed-use lifestyle destination” projected for 2019 completion. Residential, office, entertainment, food and 350,000 square feet of retail were envisioned inside the brick Johnson Gates, the former main entrance to the fort, on Route 35 in Eatontown, with fountains and a playground. Renderings depicted storefronts bearing the names LL Bean, Patagonia, Tommy Bahama, Shake Shack, and an iPic dine-in movie theater.“We were unable to come to terms with Paramount so they pulled out,” said Dave Nuse, FMERA’s director of real estate development, at the agency’s Feb. 21 monthly meeting. “FMERA is now in negotiations with the second-ranked bidder.” Renderings and a virtual reality video of the Freedom Pointe were still on the website of MMA Architects a week later.“Paramount had its own problems and withdrew willingly,” said interim FMERA Chairman Robert Lucky. “We are committed to making this a livable town center for Eatontown.” Eatontown Mayor Dennis Connelly thanked the board for “giving it a good shot. It got watered down over time, partly because of the way retail is in this economy. We just want to see the best project for Eatontown.” Eatontown’s Monmouth Mall nearby is also proposed for a redevelopment expansion project with 700 residential units, currently stalled in litigation.The town center use was designated in FMERA’s master redevelopment plan for the 1,128-acre former Army base spanning portions of Eatontown, Oceanport and Tinton Falls. The project promises thousands of construction and permanent jobs. To attract and retain occupancy and foot traffic, amenities like ice skating rinks, holiday and special events, and high-tech shopping options were promised by Paramount Vice President Lee Zekaria, who visited “next generation” malls nationwide, incorporating the most successful features in his firm’s plan. During last year’s press conference, he deemed Freedom Pointe the “crown jewel” of the fort’s redevelopment. Zekaria did not respond to a request for comment by press time.“The town center is a gateway,” said FMERA Executive Director Bruce Steadman. “All the bids we received were based on that. We have the same plan in mind.” Procedures prohibit officials from revealing the identity of bidders during the evaluation/negotiation process.Bowling Center Back on the BlockThe Fort Monmouth Bowling Center along the Avenue of Memories in Eatontown has returned to the real estate market after its redeveloper, a family firm that owns two bowling alleys in North Jersey, notified FMERA it “was not prepared to close on the property within the timeframes specified,” officials said. The company, known as FMBEC (the sole original bidder for the center), withdrew its proposal for the 17,600-square-foot brick structure on 2.3 acres Feb. 14.“Our preference is that it remains a bowling center, but if someone offers a higher and better use that’s justifiable, we must look at it,” Steadman said. The board approved proceeding with an offer to purchase rather than sealed bids because “potential purchasers have expressed interest in acquiring and renovating the property for recreation, entertainment, and related uses,” wrote FMERA staff, adding they are seeking “greater flexibility for selecting the right scenario that would maximize the development potential and economic value of the Bowling Center.” Staff also recommended giving bidders the option of ground leasing the land, making the lessee potentially eligible to obtain a special state concessionaire permit to sell alcohol on the premises.This article first appeared in the Mar. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.