Fort Monmouth closes

September 15, 2011 2:15:50 PM PDT
A New Jersey institution is closing after 94 years on Thursday, leaving a community hurting for jobs and real estate.

"I'm shocked, I never thought it would happen," Pete Siino, a restaurant owner said.

Pete Siino has seen business decline at his pizza restaurant by 40% at lunchtime.

His customers worked at Fort Monmouth, and by now they've either retired or moved to Maryland.

"It's been a gradual decline of business and in the last few weeks it's declined even more," Siino said.

Since 1917, Fort Monmouth has been the center of the community in Eatontown.

Workers developed communications technology for the military; everything from homing pigeons, to radar, to a device that translated English into Arabic.

"We have a major challenge ahead of us which is filling the void of Fort Monmouth," Eatontown Mayor Gerald Tarantolo said.

Mayor Tarantolo estimates that more than 5,000 high tech jobs and another 12,000 support jobs have been lost due to the base closure.

Contractors are leaving too, and dozens of stores and businesses are vacant.

"We could be seeing an 18-20% unemployment rate and we have a glut of real estate," Tarantolo said.

The local businesses that are still open are suffering.

"It used to be a lot of action, now it's dead (do you wonder how your business survives?). Yes, especially now with this economy," said Mike Psarakis, of the Cobblestone Diner.

The federal government decided to close the base in 2005 to save money.

But so far, it's cost $1.8 billion to move the operations to Aberdeen, Maryland.

That's about a billion dollars over budget.

Thursday afternoon, the American flag will be lowered for the last time at Fort Monmouth and the base will be officially closed.

Thursday night will be the first time in 94 years that you won't be able to hear taps played at 11 p.m.