The vision to turn an area near the Atlantic City Airport into a major aviation and technology hub soon could be a reality, ROI-NJ has learned.
The 58-acre National Aviation Research and Technology Park has been on an obstacle-ridden path to development since 2009. Nearly a decade later, hope-weary Atlantic County leaders believe the stars may be finally aligned.
Lauren Moore, the head of the Atlantic County Economic Alliance and the former executive director of the state’s Business Action Center, is confident there will be movement in the coming weeks.
“This is happening,” Moore said in a phone interview Monday.
“We have the attention of the Economic Development Authority and we have the attention, clearly, of Trenton through the unbelievable support of our Legislature.”
Supporters point to a number of things that have cleared the way for the park to finally gain traction.
- Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on enhancing the state’s economy with a focus on innovation – a theme he has continued since taking office;
- Aug. 5 will mark 45 days since legislation was passed by both houses that would provide extra incentives to attract companies to the research and innovation park. The governor is scheduled to be out of state until Aug. 8. If the bill is not acted on, it automatically becomes law;
- The first tenant of the first building (of seven) of National Aviation Research and Technology Park, set to open in October, is expected to be revealed in August.
- The land sits within an Opportunity Zone tract.
Five years ago, the plan was considered dead in the water — defeated after years of clawing for federal funding and failing to attain national recognition.
The project, on Federal Aviation Administration land, has been kept alive over the years with financial backing from the Atlantic County government, Atlantic County Improvement Authority, South Jersey Economic Development District, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority as well as the ACEA.
Moore said he is aggressively leading the charge that could result in state support of the decades-old dream.
Moore has a meeting with members of Murphy’s administration on Tuesday to discuss the legislation that would provide incentives to attract national research and technology firms to the region.
The FAA land, adjacent to the William J. Hughes Technical Center and the Atlantic City Airport (ACY), has been ripe for growth for at least a decade.
Its first major push was to be the home of the Next Generation Aviation Research and Technology Park, also called the NextGen Park, in an effort lead by the South Jersey Economic Development District.
The goal was to make the park a hub for innovation, including for the NextGen technology which was supposed to supplant radar.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo fought to bring federal funding to the region to support this effort. It never got off the ground, despite hosting a groundbreaking in 2009. Project delays piled up.
Stockton University took up the project in 2013, changing the project’s name to the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park – a name that was still being used in 2017.
In May of 2017, the project finally broke ground on the first of seven planned buildings for the park.
The $18.5 million, 66,000-square-foot building, designed by AECOM, already has a potential tenant.
The FAA is slated to use 7,000 square feet on the first floor for an expansion of its offices when the building opens in October, according to Moore.
Moore said the project’s name was changed to the National Aviation Research and Technology Park this year, at the request of several interested parties.
And the project could soon see another significant change.
For the past six months, the New Jersey Innovation Institute and New Jersey Institute of Technology have been in talks with Stockton University to take over, through a mutual agreement, and push for a collaborative learning and research environment.
NJII will bring its economic development and small business development know-how to the project, meanwhile NJIT will pursue offering aviation-related courses currently unavailable at Stockton.
But those talks are still not ready for public disclosure, two sources with knowledge have told ROI-NJ.