Negotiations are under way for The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to be involved in the lease transfer for the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, several officials confirmed Tuesday.
The South Jersey Economic Development District, which holds the lease with the Federal Aviation Administration for the park’s land, fell into more than $1 million in debt and stopped completing audits while leading the park’s infrastructure installation. Officials have said they planned to transfer the lease from the district to the park’s board, a newly formed nonprofit organization, following more than a year of discussion and an infusion of more than $530,000 from Atlantic County satisfying debts to the park’s contractors.
The lease transfer has yet to take place, but is now expected to involve a partnership between the park’s board and Stockton, officials said. The partnership would marry the expertise of a more established entity to the park’s board, which achieved nonprofit status less than two years ago. Efforts to register the park’s board as an official nonprofit began in 2007, but initial applications were rejected by the Internal Revenue Service.
Asked about the college’s involvement in the process, former state Assemblyman Ed Salmon, president of the park’s board, confirmed negotiations but declined to elaborate on details of any forthcoming agreement.
“I’m not really able to talk about any of that. At the right time, there’s going to be a major press announcement,” Salmon said. “I don’t want to call them major issues, but there are issues that have to be resolved.”
Sharon Schulman, Stockton’s chief executive officer for external affairs and institutional research, said the college hopes to be able to provide more information by April 17, the date of the next scheduled meeting for the park’s board.
“There are discussions going on. Nothing is finalized at this point,” Schulman said.
Stockton is one of several entities with a stake in the project and has a seat on the park’s board. The FAA, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, and Atlantic County also have seats on the park’s board along with other members of the private sector. All members have a vote on the board except the FAA, which acts only in an advisory capacity as the park is a tenant at the FAA’s William J. Hughes Technical Center.
Stockton initially took a prominent role in the project, teaming with the state EDA to finance a 2005 feasibility study leading to the park’s development. The college was at the forefront of some of the park’s first announcements.
Park Executive Director Ron Esposito said it’s “obviously encouraging” that the college might be willing to partner with the board on the project that has faced significant obstacles. Announced more than seven years ago, the park has yet to see the construction of the first of seven planned buildings.
It remains unclear how responsibilities for the park might be divided. Steve O’Connor, interim executive director of SJEDD, said Stockton and the park’s board are working on a memorandum of agreement that would dictate specific responsibilities.
“We were hoping this would be done by the end of March. Obviously that didn’t occur,” O’Connor said. “At least by the end of April would be the target.”
In recent years, the college’s affiliated nonprofit foundation, Stockton Affiliated Services Inc., or SASI, has brokered arrangements related to auxiliary projects, including the return of programming to Dante Hall Theater for the Performing Arts in Atlantic City and the renovation of Seaview resort in Galloway.
Details from the FAA were few Tuesday.
According to the FAA, the district has told the administration it will request a lease transfer for the park but has not yet provided a draft agreement.
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