The NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park is expected to become an auxiliary organization of Richard Stockton College following a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties Wednesday.
Officials from both organizations called the move historic and said it should allow the park beleaguered by development obstacles to finally make substantial progress.
The development follows a suggestion by the Federal Aviation Administration that the park solidify a relationship with a “substantial partner” prior to a lease transfer of the park’s land, said former state Assemblyman Ed Salmon, president of the park’s board.
“If you look around the country and you look at research parks that are operating around the country, most of them have an academic institution that’s a part of it. ... For that reason we have for a number of months been talking to Stockton College about us joining together and creating a partnership for success,” Salmon said.
Described as an agreement before an agreement, the memorandum of understanding signed Wednesday in a special meeting of the park’s board allows formal discussions to begin, with the terms of a final arrangement forthcoming. State colleges are permitted to have nonprofit auxiliary organizations under a 1982 state law. The final relationship would have to be approved by Stockton’s board of trustees.
The law allows for colleges’ auxiliary organizations to operate student centers, pubs, student dormitories and bookstores, but they are not limited to those purposes. The transactions of the auxiliary organizations should be within the educational purposes of the college, the law states. Salmon said he has received assurances from Gov. Chris Christie’s office that the state supports the move.
College President Herman J. Saatkamp said in this case, the benefit to the liberal arts college will come in terms of research and student internships. The college also is considering creating programs related to engineering, aviation and avionics that would compliment the park’s goals, it said in a statement.
Through the agreement, Stockton is planning to underwrite some of the park’s finances for three to five years, Saatkamp said. After that, the college hopes to see the organization become self-sufficient.
The park’s 2013 budget is $292,905. About 70 percent of that comes from membership fees. The remaining 30 percent is funded by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which has funded the operating expenses for the park.
“There’s always financial risks in anything you do,” Saatkamp said when asked about the risk to the college. “In this case, the answer largely is that the financial risk is minimal and the gains for the college and for the community are really significant.”
Negotiations are under way to transfer the lease for the park’s land at the William J. Hughes Technical Center to the park’s board. The lease is currently held by the South Jersey Economic Development District, which fell into significant debt while leading the project and has since agreed to relinquish the lease. Wednesday’s action is a precursor to the transfer.
The park also has plans to execute an agreement with Northfield-based developer New Vistas Corp., which was first brought into the picture last year. A contract with the firm has been held up in part due to complications from the transfer process.
“While there are no guarantees for success ... when Stockton is involved, things are done in a first-class nature,” said Sam Donelson, acting executive director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority and a member of the park’s board.
Officials said discussions of Stockton’s potential involvement have helped propel other decisions relating to the park. Earlier this year, Atlantic County agreed to provide $530,000, some of which will be reimbursed by a federal grant, to satisfy debts to contractors incurred by the SJEDD.
Howard Kyle, chief of staff to Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, said Stockton’s involvement in the park was a “major factor” in the county’s decision to contribute the funding.
Stockton is already familiar with the benefits of auxiliary organizations. In 2008, the college formed Stockton Affiliated Services Inc. The nonprofit foundation has brokered arrangements including the return of programming to Dante Hall Theater for the Performing Arts in Atlantic City and the renovation of the Seaview resort in Galloway Township.
College officials have said auxiliary organizations, which typically help manage non-academic services, can do things more quickly and efficiently than colleges themselves. As nonprofit organizations, they do not have to abide by state bidding processes.
Rowan University has an auxiliary organization that manages its Technology Park. The College of New Jersey has a nonprofit that manages off-campus housing.
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