A rendering of the Atlantic City Gateway project — Courtesy: AC Devco
By Joshua Burd
Atlantic City took a ceremonial but monumental step forward on Thursday in the long-running effort to grow the resort town beyond gaming, as officials broke ground on a new mixed-use development that will be home to both Stockton University and South Jersey Industries.
Known as the Atlantic City Gateway, the $220 million project by AC Devco is one of the few nongaming developments in the city over the past two decades. When compete, the 675,000-square-foot complex will include new academic and student housing buildings for Stockton and a six-story office tower for South Jersey Industries in the city’s Chelsea section.
The project runs along the city’s famed Boardwalk. And for both the Galloway-based university and the utility, which is relocating from nearby Folsom, it is something of a homecoming.
“For South Jersey Industries, this was really one of those rare times when need, opportunity and impact all come together,” CEO Michael Renna said, noting that the company is “bursting at the seams” but doesn’t have the ability to expand at its existing space. “We truly did need new office space, so when the opportunity presented itself to come to Atlantic City — to come in when everybody else seemed to be wanting to go out —it was something that we couldn’t pass up.
“This is our home. We started in Atlantic City, so we’re really proud to be coming back.”
Slated for completion in fall 2018, the Gateway is being developed AC Devco, an offshoot of the nonprofit New Brunswick Development Corp. that has overseen a host of successful projects in New Brunswick, Newark and elsewhere. A mix of public and private investment is driving the project, including a $68.3 million Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant and a $12.6 million Grow New Jersey tax credit from the Economic Development Authority, along with $22 million in funding from the state’s recent higher education bond.
Construction is already underway around Atlantic and Albany avenues in Atlantic City. Stockton’s $178 million campus will include a 56,000-square-foot academic building and a 533-bed residential complex with 15,000 square feet of retail space along the Boardwalk.
South Jersey Industries, meantime, will occupy an office tower that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Led by New Jersey real estate titan Jon F. Hanson, who chairs AC Devco, Thursday’s ceremony drew business leaders, public officials and members Stockton University to the development site. And it came three weeks after Hard Rock International unveiled its celebrated plans for a $375 million renovation of the former Trump Taj Mahal casino.
Gov. Chris Christie said the positive developments, combined with recent improvements to what has been Atlantic City’s dire financial situation, represent a turning point for the resort town. He said the city has come a long way from the beginning of the 10-year downturn and decline in gaming revenue that was besieging the city when he took office in 2010.
“This city is an extraordinary asset, both for our state and for the entire region, and it was neglected by lots of people,” Christie said, later adding: “Now what you’re seeing is what happens when people are vigilant stewards and investors in an asset. That asset can grow, and in fact even one that had wilted a bit can come back to life. And that’s what we’re seeing here.”
Stockton University President Harvey Kesselman recounted the school’s growth from 1971, when it held its first classes in the Mayflower Hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The institution now boasts nearly 9,000 students and at least 1,000 of them will be attending classes at the new Atlantic City campus in fall 2018.
“Today, we take the first steps of a new journey: one that recommits our intellectual promise to the residents of Atlantic City — and all of South Jersey — by establishing a new branch campus on the world’s most famous boardwalk, a branch campus that will include a state-of-the-art academic building, 533 student residences overlooking the beach, shops, food and parking galore,” he said. “Working together, we will raise more than steel, brick and mortar. We will raise hopes and nurture opportunities.”