Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Jim Whelan held a roundtable discussion Thursday afternoon in Atlantic City on public-private partnership projects within the city and elsewhere across the state.Thursday’s forum at the Sheraton hotel comes on the third and final day of the annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, which is being held across the street at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
The discussion began with an update from Christopher J. Paladino, president of the New Brunswick Development Corp., on his private nonprofit’s most recent work in Atlantic City, which includes the development of an “island campus” for Stockton University and a new headquarters for South Jersey Industries, which operates South Jersey Gas.
Part of the first phase of the so-called Gateway Redevelopment Initiative, the projects call for more than $121 million in investments to erect academic and residential buildings for the proposed Stockton campus. The academic building will be able to immediately accommodate around 1,000 students upon completion, with the ability to increase that capacity to around 1,800 students. The residential component, which will feature oceanfront dormitories with mixed-use retail and open spaces, will hold 125 units capable of accommodating around 500 student beds.
Among the various public and private funding sources needed for the project, applications have been filed to secure just over $50 million in combined Economic Redevelopment and Growth tax credits from the Economic Development Authority for residential and parking components of the project.
Coupled with the South Jersey Industries building, which will look to take form on the site of the former Atlantic City High School, Paladino said that, by September 2018, there’s a good chance the city could see “in the neighborhood of” around 1,600 new people coming in for work and school.
Before diving into the Atlantic City projects, Paladino went over some of DEVCO’s recent work in its home base of New Brunswick, adding that he believes the public-private partnership model is one that can be successfully replicated across the state.
But while he says the size and scope of the first phase of the Atlantic City initiative is similar to what’s currently being worked on in New Brunswick, there are always some differences.
“What’s important to understand about public-private partnerships is that it’s a dynamic process,” Paladino said. “No two of them are the same.”
Other roundtable members were particularly keen on the Stockton plans.
“It’s nice to see things come together,” said Greater Atlantic City Chamber President Joe Kelly.
Kelly said that, with New Jersey known for exporting so many of its high school students to out-of-state colleges and universities, any effort to expand in-state higher education opportunities, particularly with the allure of oceanfront dorms, is something that “just makes a lot of sense.”
“These are more than just construction projects,” said Whelan (D-Northfield), who added that he plans on making the expansion of public-private partnership opportunities for colleges and universities a priority of his in the upcoming legislative session. “They really give us an opportunity to address some real needs.”
“This is what it’s about,” added Sweeney (D-West Deptford). “It’s about creating opportunities.”
The roundtable was part of the Sweeney-led initiative, “New Jersey: Investing in You,” which Democrats put forth last month in an effort to address issues pertaining to the state’s economic recovery.
“You can’t starve an economy back to health,” Sweeney said. “This is something to make it happen.”
The discussion also featured input from several public, nonprofit and educational leaders on examples of other public-private partnership efforts currently underway across the state.