COVER STORY, FEBRUARY 2005
A New Life for Historic Army Fort
in New Jersey
Rehabilitation effort to encompass a variety of uses.
Less than an hour away from Lower Manhattan floats a stretch
of New Jersey coastline that has remained untouched by private
development. With nearly 14 miles of beachfront, the Sandy
Hook peninsula is a real estate developers dream. But
since Sandy Hook is a national park, owned by the federal
government and managed by the National Park Service, those
visions of commercial development have remained only in developers
imaginations until now.
Built in 1898-1899, the 18 former
quarters on Officers Row at Fort Hancock
will offer accommodations and meeting space when
the rehabilitation is complete at The Fort at
Sandy Hook. The Georgian-style, buff-colored brick
buildings look much the same as when they were
The National Park Service has entered into a partnership with
private developer Sandy Hook Partners to redevelop a portion
of Fort Hancock, an Army base built on the peninsulas
tip in the 1890s to protect New York Harbor. Now, much of
Fort Hancock is devoted to marine and environmental uses.
The National Park Service, the Coast Guard, the National Oceanographic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the New Jersey Marine
Science Consortium, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology,
and other marine and environmental organizations operate at
Sandy Hook Partners will expand on this marine/environmental
sciences theme as it redevelops 36 of Fort Hancocks
110 buildings into the Fort at Sandy Hook, a project that
encompasses nearly 300,000 square feet. The companys
plan calls for a mix of interesting uses a plan that
blends together corporate training facilities, fitness and
wellness programs, research and education facilities, cultural
events, and hospitality services.
The historic Fort Hancock (foreground)
was built in the 1890s to protect New York Harbor.
Besides the fort itself, which was decommissioned
in 1974, Sandy Hook is also the location of an
army proving ground where new weapons were once
tested, the Spermaceti Cove No. 2 Life-Saving
Service Station, the earliest federally sponsored
effort to aid coastal shipwrecks, and the Sandy
Hook Lighthouse, which was built in 1764. The
area is managed by the National Park Service,
which is redeveloping the fort with Sandy Hook
Partners. The New York City skyline can be seen
across the water.
What were developing at the end of the day is
a learning and conferencing center where people will come
for a variety of research environments and development labs,
says James Wassel, president of Sandy Hook Partners. The
hospitality programs will service their needs as they develop
programs, seminars and conferences.
The hospitality component was the number one element that
current tenants (referred to as park partners
at Fort Hancock) stressed when talking with Sandy Hook Partners
about how to best complement the existing uses of the fort.
The park partners told us that if the fort had lodging,
they could really begin to grow their programs because they
could invite researchers to Sandy Hook, says Wassel.
They could invite professors to come here and develop
research projects and graduate programs. The partners told
us stories about researchers who wanted to come here to work
with NOAA, but passed Sandy Hook by because there are no hospitality
facilities here, no places to stay and eat.
Other suggestions included adding conference facilities and
meeting rooms, where park partners could share and celebrate
the research occurring on the peninsula. Sandy Hook Partners
agreed that such facilities would be a boon to the fort and
is currently talking with some hospitality companies who can
add both a conference center and lodging accommodations to
Fort Hancock. Wassel expects the first phase of the hospitality
component to open late this year.
A period picture from the early
20th century shows the enlisted mens barracks
across the parade grounds. The parade grounds
and flagstaff are part of the historic setting.
Fort Hancock was an operational Army location
until 1974, when it was decommissioned by the
Pentagon. The rectangular-shaped, two-story barracks
were built from 1898-1899 in the same buff-colored
brick as the Officers Row quarters. Several
buildings that are unoccupied have suffered significant
The Fort at Sandy Hook will also include a new oceanographic
research center, which will be developed by Rutgers University
and Brookdale Community College. Construction will begin on
that project by years end. A research institute focused
on hyperbaric medicine therapy originally targeted
for treating decompression sickness and now one of the fastest
growing areas of medical research, says Wassel will
also open at the Fort at Sandy Hook during the second phase
of Sandy Hook Partners development plan.
In addition, Sandy Hook Partners plans to develop a simulated
trading floor and court room as part of its corporate training
and learning center. A health club is already in the works.
The YMCA, which previously operated at the fort, is reopening
in the building it originally occupied. Sandy Hook Partners
plans to set up additional health and wellness programs around
the Fort at Sandy Hooks YMCA. The company is also arranging
numerous recreational programs and cultural events. A month-long
Shakespeare festival is scheduled for summer 2005 and Sandy
Hook Partners is also looking into organizing a film festival
and lecture series for Fort Hancock.
All of the projects at the Fort at Sandy Hook will be developed
in the forts existing buildings. Much of Fort Hancock
has remained unchanged since the Pentagon deactivated it in
1974 and the National Park Service took over as landlord.
Many of the forts buildings have not been used in more
than 30 years. And, since Fort Hancock is a registered National
Historic Landmark, the buildings redeveloped by Sandy Hook
Partners must continue to appear as if they have not been
touched since the 1890s.
Sandy Hook Partners must rehabilitate all of the forts
36 buildings according to New Jerseys historic preservation
standards while simultaneously preparing them for contemporary
uses. No new development is allowed. Wassel acknowledges the
challenges inherent in such an effort. It takes a lot
of conversation and a lot of give and take with the National
Park Service and the state historic preservation office to
ensure we meet their criteria.
But having worked on similar historic rehabilitations, such
as Faneuil Hall in Boston and South Street Seaport in New
York, Wassel is more than up to the task. In fact, he welcomes
the challenges. I would say 90 percent of the materials
in these buildings you wouldnt want to take out because
they are the features that add charm to the buildings. The
conference room Im sitting in right now features dentil
molding on top of the windows and a tin ceiling. There are
old cast iron radiators. There are these six-panel doors that
are original to the building. And in the hallway is a beautiful
staircase with a banister. All of those are character-defining
features. They must stay, and we must work around those kinds
Though the Fort at Sandy Hook will expand upon Fort Hancocks
newfound marine and environmental science heritage, it will
also keep the forts military-based legacy alive, resulting
in a truly unique development project that incorporates many
different facets of use: research, training, wellness, culture,
technology and hospitality. We think the Fort at Sandy
Hook will be a fabulous use for an old, beautiful facility
like this, says Wassel.
©2005 France Publications, Inc. Duplication
or reproduction of this article not permitted without authorization
from France Publications, Inc. For information on reprints
of this article contact Barbara
Sherer at (630) 554-6054.