EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A Ventnor firm will build a long-sought hotel and conference center near Atlantic City International Airport to handle business created by the area’s growing airport and aviation industry.
One of those industries is the proposed Next Generation Aviation Research and Technology Park, which proponents say could have a 2,000-person work pool.
The hotel will have 135 rooms, including some extended-stay suites, about 6,000 square feet of conference space, 22,000-square feet of retail space and possibly a restaurant.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, or SJTA, which operates the airport, awarded the contract for the facility Tuesday to Argus Development Corporation Inc. Argus will pay for and develop the hotel-conference center on 13.5 acres of land at the airport circle. The site, which will be leased from the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, is flanked by Delilah and Tilton roads.
Argus management member Lester Argus said his company is still working on a cost estimate for the project, which remains in the design stages. He said he expects construction to begin in about two-and-a-half years.
“We’ve been about two-and-a-half years in negotiations putting this together,” Argus said. “As of this point, it looks like it’s a go.”
Argus said he’s already spoken with two hotel companies interested in operating his planned facility. He wouldn’t name the companies.
Earlier attempts by different entities to build some kind of hotel facility at the airport have failed. One plan included a $15 million all-suite hotel.
However, SJTA spokeswoman Sharon Gordon said the area has reached the point where aviation-related activity involving the airport, the adjoining FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center and a planned aviation research and technology park can support that sort of business. That activity involves business and pleasure travelers looking for a place to stay and hold meetings, she said.
For instance, new air carriers (AirTran Airways and WestJet) and new travel destinations (Chicago, Boston and Toronto) are driving increased customer traffic at the airport, Gordon said. Longtime airport carrier Spirit Airlines will add a second daily flight to Boston in May, SJTA also announced Tuesday.
Meanwhile, thousands of federal air marshals are now being trained annually on the FAA-airport site, where the U.S. Coast Guard also has extensive training and operational facilities, she said. The overall FAA workforce also is growing, she said.
The planned aviation research and technology park is expected to attract business travelers, according to Gordon.
The proposed park is a complex where staff will develop improved air safety and travel systems. As many as 2,000 people could work in the park’s seven buildings in 408,000 square feet of laboratory research space, proponents say.
At the airport on Tuesday, travelers were generally in favor of the hotel.
“I think it makes sense,” said Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident Sharon Flood, who said she might use the hotel the night before catching an early-morning flight.
One traveler — Angel Cortes — said he might do the same thing, even though he lives in the township.
“Why not?” he said. “It could make it easier.”
However, one traveler, Robert Lerner of Fort Myers, Fla., said he hopes the hotel doesn’t help the airport become too busy and crowded.
“It would take away from the quiet, the quaintness,” he said.
Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said the hotel could bring his municipality a much-needed ratable, and hopefully create some new employment opportunities. He also said the facility would be good for the area in general.
“If it’s going to enhance the travel industry, that’s a positive, too,” he said.
McCullough said the township is preparing for several other hotel projects. “This stuff means a lot to us,” he said.
Argus said the project still needs various construction approvals, including one from the state Pinelands Commission.
He said the site design will depend in part on how the airport circle is configured once the circle — where Tilton and Delilah roads and Amelia Earhart Boulevard meet — is rebuilt.
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