When the plan by Stockton University and former President Herman Saatkamp to purchase a closed casino hotel for an Island Campus ran into deed problems last March, we urged forgiveness and patience. We were "almost confident" such a campus would still be developed.
Now, the project is not only solid, it has transformed into something much better for Stockton, Atlantic City and even the former Showboat Casino Hotel.
The campus - with separate housing, academic and parking buildings - will be newly built, which ensures construction that's appropriate to college use. Adapting a former casino would have been a bargain in the short run (one of Saatkamp's arguments for the Showboat deal), but wouldn't work nearly as well as facilities designed for college use.
Last summer, there was widespread worry that Stockton was stuck with a costly and unusable massive building, and without the capital to take the island campus in a different direction. There was a regional sigh of relief when the university was able to sell the casino hotel (after complications, but hey, this is Atlantic City) and get its money back.
The new Stockton Atlantic City Campus plan is an especially good deal for the college. It will contribute $18 million - just what it paid for Showboat.
The N.J. Economic Development Authority will float $70 million in tax-exempt bonds for the project (arguably a better use of EDA money than getting existing corporations to move to Camden or stay in the state). Another $17 million will be Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds, also perfectly in keeping with its mission.
All of this planning, funding and construction is being coordinated by the Atlantic City Development Corp., so the campus also represents a core success for its first mission of creating the AC Gateway at the city's Black Horse Pike entrance.
AC Devco will own the $87 million student housing building, which will be managed by Stockton. The public-private partnership will also own the $35 million parking garage, which will also provide parking to the public and another gateway anchor, South Jersey Industries.
The struggling Chelsea section around the campus will get an infusion of people and businesses. The city will also benefit from the northern end of the Boardwalk remaining available for large-scale commercial projects.
Such redevelopment will be required for the city to remake itself into a more compelling destination.
We're again almost confident that the repurposing of the Showboat - now in the hands of proven redeveloper Bart Blatstein - will be much more appropriate for its location than a college campus.
Good news all around, but we're still advising patience.
For a few years, the principal benefit of the Stockton Atlantic City Campus will be helping restore confidence and optimism, which is fine. The region needs those, too, and probably first.