A technology park long planned on the grounds of the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center will now be an offshoot of The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
On Wednesday, the college’s board authorized a three-year agreement making the park an auxiliary organization of the college. With the agreement comes a promise from Stockton to supplement the park’s operating expenses during the initial years of development, though no dollar amount is named in the agreement.
The move was made in part due to the Federal Aviation Administration’s request that the park, a registered nonprofit organization, find a stable development partner for the project first announced eight years ago. Wednesday’s action will allow for a lease transfer necessary for the project, beleaguered by delays and mismanagement, to move forward.
“Think of the financial strength of Stockton College. Then think of the financial strength of (the park). There wasn’t any until now,” said former state Assemblyman Ed Salmon, president of the park’s board. “This provides us with the backing to move forward.”
Long known as the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park, the project has been a nod to the FAA’s NextGen plan to make air travel more efficient by switching from a radar-based system to a satellite-based system.
With Wednesday’s action, however, the college has eliminated “NextGen” from the park’s name, instead calling it the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park.
Stockton President Herman Saatkamp has said he does not like including NextGen in the park’s name as he believes the park will attract aviation work outside of NextGen, particularly in the realm of unmanned aircraft systems. Stockton, the park and Atlantic City International Airport are all involved in New Jersey’s bid to become one of six unmanned aircraft system testing sites across the country.
The federal government’s NextGen program has been slow to unfold. Billions in funding have been announced, but only a fraction has been released.
Over time, officials have said they don’t believe the park has to be exclusively tied to the federal program used as a selling point in early years. Officials initially argued that aviation companies would want to be located in the park as NextGen was developed to be close to the Hughes Technical Center, the nation’s lone federal laboratory for air transportation systems.
Plans for the park were first announced nearly eight years ago in October 2005. Almost immediately, Stockton was at the helm of the project, but over time other entities took a more central role.
“That park has taken longer in development than anyone ever hoped it would,” Saatkamp said Wednesday. “But we’re making progress today in a way that we had hoped for four or five years ago.”
State colleges are permitted to have nonprofit auxiliary organizations under a 1982 state law. Most often, this allows for these organizations to operate student centers, pubs, dormitories and bookstores provided they support the educational purposes of the college.
Park Executive Director Ron Esposito said with Stockton’s backing the park will continue to pursue a lease for its land. The land is currently owned by the FAA and leased to the South Jersey Economic Development District. Under past leadership, the district incurred more than $1 million in debt while leading the project.
The park’s current budget is $292,905, with about 70 percent funded by membership fees. The remainder is funded by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which has provided money for the park’s operating expenses for years but never intended to do so indefinitely, officials have said.
Esposito said the park’s board will be working on the coming year’s budget with Stockton’s assistance in mind, though exact financing has yet to be decided. Amendments to the current year’s budget may also be considered.
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