GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The board of the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park voted Thursday to assign a portion of its leased land to the Atlantic County Improvement Authority, so it can finance the long-awaited project.

And SARTP Executive Director Joseph Sheairs said he now expects groundbreaking on the park’s first building to take place in the third quarter of the year, rather than June as previously predicted. He said it should be complete in the fourth quarter of 2017.

The assignment of land under the first building and its parking lot makes it possible for the ACIA to bond up to $15.5 million to get the research facility under way, said ACIA Executive Director John Lamey.

“Nobody would buy the bonds if there was no assignment of the lease,” said Lamey after the meeting, since whoever controls the land could interfere with the rental of the building, and rents will be used to pay back bondholders.

Attorney Fred Scerni, whose firm Parker McCay provides legal services to the SARTP, said assignment can’t be finalized until operating agreements are finalized between the park and the Federal Aviation Administration, which owns the land.

The ACIA voted in February to issue about $15.5 million in bonds to finance the SARTP’s first building, and the Atlantic County freeholders voted in March to guarantee those bonds.

The freeholders also voted in March to issue up to an additional $7.5 million in county bonds for design and construction of the first building.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is also providing a $2.7 million loan.

Also Thursday, Today, the Senate Economic Growth Committee approved a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, to help the park attract high-technology tenants.

The bill, S1322, creates three innovation zones in the state that are clustered in and around higher education institutions and research hospitals where technology companies would be eligible for incentives and assistance to help them grow and innovate through the Economic Development Authority and the Department of Higher Education.

Whelan got Galloway Township and Egg Harbor Township included in the South Jersey innovation zone, covering Stockton University, its ARTP and the FAA Hughes Technical Center. A similar bill passed both houses of the Legislature last session but was not signed by Governor Chris Christie.

On Wednesday, Stockton University’s Board of Trustees voted to reappoint the staff of the SARTP to their positions for another year. And on Thursday the SARTP board approved a new $466,289 annual budget for the park through June 30, 2017.

Sheairs was reappointed executive director, with his salary increasing from $150,000 to $154,500 in the new budget year.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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