Fort Monroe is attracting international interest from prospective developers who want to shape the future of the mixed-use community.
So far, more than a dozen firms have responded to the Fort Monroe Authority’s request for qualifications and statements of interest in redeveloping properties at the historic landmark.
“We certainly checked the box of making sure the project was marketed nationally,” said Glenn Oder, executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority. “We have heard from developers from across the Country and we have had people from 13 countries visit the site. We are very pleased.”
Fort Monroe’s leadership is indeed pleased, but not surprised, given the property’s 565-acre location on the lower Chesapeake Bay, and the historic significance.
“I would rate Fort Monroe as the largest and most important opportunity on the East Coast this year – period,” said Jay Joseph, a member of the Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees.
“Without a doubt, in terms of amenities, in terms of the basic buildings that we have, in terms of the scenic wonders of the lower Chesapeake Bay,” said Joseph, who is also senior vice president for Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate. “There is not another redevelopment opportunity that comes close in terms of a place for people to live, work and play.”
The Authority issued the request for qualifications in June, seeking to generate interest from developers around the world who see the potential of Fort Monroe as a multi-use community. Developers would be offered long-term leases, from 40 to 99 years, on the commercial buildings the Authority owns. Nearly all of the commercial properties — about 900,000 square feet and about 98 acres of land — in the historic district, the Northgate area and inner fort will be considered for the RFQs. The authority would also offer up sections of Reeder Circle apartments, which has both occupied and unoccupied units, if a developer showed interest.
The RFQ process is a milestone itself for the Authority, which has been overseeing the historic landmark since 2011, when it ceased operations as a U.S. Army base. The Army has been transferring land to the Authority over the past seven years, with the last parcels to be conveyed this year. Over that time, the Authority staff has been working diligently caring for the property, attracting businesses, tourists and residents – all with the long-term goal of making Fort Monroe economically sustainable. That goal could become possible through private development and investment.
“Every working day up until this moment we have been evaluating the property and studying the conditions of the buildings. That has allowed us to be knowledgeable about what is available on the property and what it can be re-used for,” Oder said. “Now that the property is transferring to us, we have moved the property into the marketplace with confidence.”
Jim Moran, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said Oder and his staff have helped uncover Fort Monroe’s potential.
“The progress has been substantial. The Army saw this as a military base, but it was also a priceless landmark,” Moran said. “In fact, it may be the most historic, most unrecognized piece of property on the market today.”
The National Park Service, the U.S. Army and others have worked along with FMA on the preservation and marketing of Fort Monroe as a community with something to offer everyone – from African American and Civil War history, to business space, to residences, to entertainment venues, to events and recreational spaces.
“They have been able to put together a collaborative vision of what this property could become,” Moran said. “We all share a love and appreciation of this precious piece of property. Now we want to see from experts in developing communities as to what they have to offer and where they might be able to take it.”
The responses to the RFQ have come from across the globe, illustrating the uniqueness of the opportunity.
“I would expect the response to be exceptional and for the people to have experience with historic tax credit projects and adaptive re-use of historic structures and an appreciation of the historic nature of this property to respond,” Joseph said. “There are many other historic sites in the northeast with older inventory of historic structures; I would expect major interest to come from there.”
The vision is for Fort Monroe to become a major driver of the economy on the Virginia Peninsula and the entire Hampton Roads community.
“I believe that a large portion of Fort Monroe will be redeveloped, renovated and rehabilitated for residential use,” Joseph said. “There are many people who when they move to a town they bring their business and their bank deposits and their investment needs. And they bring their dining habits and their shopping habits.”
Oder said Fort Monroe is already serving as a catalyst for economic activity, particularly in Phoebus and the surrounding areas.
“We have three restaurants on the property, and professional tours. There are almost 400 jobs, where people get up and come to work at Fort Monroe,” Oder said. “We are now starting to see growth in the local community. It is like a concentric circle. Eventually this is going to spill over into the city of Hampton, and the Peninsula, and it will benefit the state coffers.”
Building on that momentum will require making more of the properties at Fort Monroe suitable for use, something the Fort Monroe Authority cannot afford to do on its own, which is why private investment is sought.
“When you go into the vacant buildings at Fort Monroe you recognize both the opportunity for improvement as well as the immediate need to begin the preservation and restoration process,” Moran said. “We know there are qualified experienced developers in the market today that see these spaces as opportunities and have the financial resources to put these building back into active, productive use that compliments the history of this property.”
Although Fort Monroe will be further transformed through the vision of whichever developer, or developers, Oder and others said careful attention will be paid to protecting the community’s history and the environment.
“Anybody who is concerned about hurting Fort Monroe through this process should look at the organization and controlling documents and the process,” Joseph said. “We have used these last number of years to make sure that we have all of the rules and procedures in place to protect the place. That is our first mission, and it will always be our first mission.”
“I would rate Fort Monroe as the largest and most important opportunity on the East Coast this year – period.”
– <strong>Jay Joseph</strong> <br><em>Member of the Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees</em>