EVESHAM TOWNSHIP — Richard Stockton College is negotiating to buy one of two shuttered Boardwalk casinos to create a new campus in Atlantic City for 10,000 students, Mayor Don Guardian disclosed Wednesday.
Speaking at an economic forum in Burlington County, Guardian said Stockton is looking at the former Atlantic Club and Showboat casino hotels as part of expansion plans outside the college’s main campus in Galloway Township.
“They were looking for a new campus for 10,000 students, and we were able to convince them that Atlantic City is the location,” Guardian said. “So in the next couple of weeks, you’ll see they’re either going to end up with the Atlantic Club, which means all the property in that section of town will become the college district, or they’re going to end up with Showboat, in which case the Southeast Inlet is going to become a district. They’re looking at 10,000 students, four undergraduate schools, four graduate schools.”
Stockton previously disclosed its interest in developing an Atlantic City campus, but Guardian’s comments provided far more details, including the revelation that the college remains in talks to acquire either the Atlantic Club or Showboat. Stockton President Herman Saatkamp told The Press of Atlantic City in July that the college had made an offer for the Atlantic Club, before it was sold to a Florida real estate company in May for $13.5 million.
Sharon Schulman, Stockton’s CEO of external affairs and institutional research, released a statement Wednesday confirming that the college is still considering Atlantic City.
“Our status has not changed. Yes, as we have discussed, we are pursuing various opportunities in Atlantic City, but nothing is definite and it is premature to discuss them,” Schulman said. “There is nothing firm.”
In an interview after the economic forum, Guardian said he believes Stockton “is very close now” in making a decision about the Atlantic Club or Showboat.
“He is very serious and so is Stockton’s board about finding a location in Atlantic City that will meet their needs,” Guardian said of Saatkamp.
Having a new college campus bustling with thousands of students would be key for rejuvenating Atlantic City’s housing and business sectors as the resort looks to recover from its casino slump.
An additional 10,000 students at an Atlantic City campus would more than double Stockton’s current enrollment of about 8,500 in Galloway Township, college figures show. Guardian said the college would reopen the hotel tower at the Atlantic Club or Showboat as part of a broader plan to transform one of the former casinos into a new campus.
Showboat and the Atlantic Club are among four casinos that have closed this year amid Atlantic City’s economic crisis. Revel Casino-Hotel shut down over Labor Day weekend, followed by the closing of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino on Sept. 16.
TJM Properties Inc., a real estate company based in Clearwater, Florida, agreed to buy the Atlantic Club property from an affiliate of casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. in May for $13.5 million. TJM has not announced any plans for the Atlantic Club since the deal was completed.
Atlantic Club shut down Jan. 13 after it was sold in a bankruptcy auction involving two larger rivals. Caesars Entertainment took possession of the property and buildings for $15 million, while fellow casino company Tropicana Entertainment Inc. bought the Atlantic Club’s slot machines and table games for $8.4 million. Neither Caesars nor Tropicana had any interest in operating the Atlantic Club as a casino in the struggling gambling market.
Caesars Entertainment closed the Showboat on Aug. 31, claiming that Atlantic City’s casino capacity was too large for its shrinking customer base. Caesars also owns the Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s Resort casinos.
Guardian said two other groups, one locally based and the other from China, also are interested in buying either the Showboat or the Atlantic Club. He told the economic forum that those groups — he did not name them — would like to transform the Atlantic Club or Showboat into a noncasino entertainment complex.
“So I think you’ll see whatever Stockton doesn’t get, the other company will get,” he said.
Guardian also outlined what he believes will happen to Revel and Trump Plaza. Toronto-based investment group Brookfield Asset Management has agreed to buy Revel for $110 million and reopen it as a casino. Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., parent company of Trump Plaza, has not revealed any plans for the casino following its shutdown.
Guardian expressed confidence that Brookfield will reopen Revel this spring and have the megaresort fully operational by Memorial Day weekend. He said Brookfield plans to spend an additional $100 million for upgrades at Revel. Brookfield owns the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and the Atlantis Paradise Island casino resort in the Bahamas, but has not yet announced an opening schedule or marketing plan for Revel, including whether it will keep its name.
“I think you’ll see a very, very strong owner that’s coming in there with casino experience, and that’s what Revel didn’t have,” Guardian said of Brookfield. “Revel built a beautiful building, but they had no experience and they had no book of players.”
Trump Plaza, on the other hand, appears headed for the wrecking ball, Guardian speculated. The aging property, a throwback to the 1980s, simply is too antiquated to be resurrected as a modern casino, the mayor said.
“Trump Plaza, on a personal note, I think, is bulldozable,” Guardian said. “It just needs way too much money. It’s not been maintained. ... This isn’t a $100 million fix. If it was a $100 million fix, I’d be positive, because that’s not a lot of money in Atlantic City for a casino. But you’re not going to fix it.”
Instead, Guardian views Trump Plaza as a potential redevelopment site offering a prime location in the middle of the Boardwalk, just off the Atlantic City Expressway entrance into town.
“Its location is ideal,” he said. “Since gaming came to Atlantic City, the idea was that you always needed to open up the Boardwalk when you came in — so you knew where the water was, you could see the Boardwalk, you could see the beach. We couldn’t do that because of the cost of property on the Boardwalk. Now, you have a piece of property that I think we can do something with.”
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