Netflix wants to turn a crumbling Army base in New Jersey into one of the largest movie and television production hubs in the Northeast, a plan that has at least one important proponent: Gov. Phil Murphy.
On Tuesday, Netflix said it would bid for a 289-acre chunk of Fort Monmouth, about 50 miles south of New York City in the boroughs of Oceanport and Eatontown. The 96-year-old base — used by the United States to develop radar technology and where a civilian engineer, Julius Rosenberg, infamously began his espionage career — was closed by the Pentagon in 2011 as the military cut spending.
Bids for the site are due Jan. 12, and Netflix would not discuss the price it planned to offer. The Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority has appraised the site at $54 million, but several developers previously offered more than $100 million for just 89 acres of the land in consideration. (Those plans fell through.) Netflix said in a statement that it would transform Fort Monmouth into a “state-of-the-art production facility,” indicating a mix of soundstages, postproduction buildings and backlot filming areas.
“Governor Murphy and the state’s legislative leaders have created a business environment that’s welcomed film and television production back to the state, and we’re excited to submit our bid,” Netflix’s statement said.
At nearly 300 acres, the Jersey Shore site would be Netflix’s second-largest production complex behind ABQ Studios in New Mexico. Netflix bought that complex in 2018 and committed to spend $1 billion in the state, announcing plans in 2020 to expand and invest an additional $1 billion. ABQ Studios will have more than 15 soundstages when complete.
Speculation about Netflix’s interest in Fort Monmouth has swirled since July, when The Two River Times reported that Netflix had been in contact with Mr. Murphy’s office about building opportunities.
New Jersey officials began playing up their state as economically and politically friendly to Netflix in 2019, when a delegation from Mr. Murphy’s administration visited various Hollywood companies in Los Angeles. In April, Mr. Murphy took a swipe at Georgia, which had just passed a law restricting voter access, leading activists, stars and others to demand that companies like Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros. boycott the state. In a letter to all of the major studios, Mr. Murphy highlighted his incentives for the film and television industry — tax credits on up to 30 percent of eligible production costs, on par with Georgia, and “a subsidy for brick and mortar studio development of up to 40 percent.”
“I am incredibly excited to hear about Netflix’s proposed investment,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement on Tuesday. “While there is an objective process that any and all applications will have to go through, this is yet more evidence that the economic plan my administration has laid out is working and bringing high-quality, good-paying jobs to our state.”
New Jersey has a long relationship with Hollywood. Thomas Edison started what is considered to be the nation’s first film studio in West Orange in 1893. The state’s political winds, however, have not always been favorable to the entertainment industry.
Throughout the 2010s, former governor Chris Christie was so disgusted with MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and its depiction of Jersey residents as binge-drinking blowhards that he made sure the state maintained a hard line on providing tax credits to film and television productions. In 2009, when HBO went to find production space for “Boardwalk Empire,” set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, the network chose to shoot the series in New York, which has long offered tax breaks. “Only New Jersey’s high taxes can make building a replica boardwalk in Brooklyn cheaper than filming on the real Boardwalk in Atlantic City,” a New Jersey state senator railed.
In recent years, production in the state has started ramping back up, in part to meet the content needs of fast-growing streaming services. Netflix alone has filmed more than 30 projects in New Jersey since 2018, including “Army of the Dead,” Zack Snyder’s zombies-in-Vegas extravaganza. Coming up, Apple TV+ will shoot “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” a movie starring Russell Crowe, Zac Efron and Bill Murray. The CBS drama “The Equalizer” has been among the other shows to tape episodes in the state.
A Netflix spokesman said the company would continue to shoot in states like New York, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and North Carolina even if the Fort Monmouth plans come to fruition. Last month, the streaming service opened a new 170,000-square foot studio converted from a former steel factory in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. The new studio includes six soundstages and office space.
On a recent afternoon outside the Bushwick studio, there were half a dozen crew and craft service trucks, as well as a number of crew members milling in and out of the building. Signage around the studio indicated that two series were already in production: “The Watcher,” a Ryan Murphy-produced limited series starring Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale, and “Jigsaw,” a new drama.