ATLANTIC CITY - The shuttered Showboat Atlantic City casino would be reborn as a college campus under plans announced Wednesday. The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in nearby Galloway Township, seeks to buy the property from Caesars Entertainment Corp. for an undisclosed amount, the college and Caesars said.
The college for months has been in talks with city officials and business executives about the possibility of opening a satellite campus in Atlantic City - a move seen as a key part of efforts to remake the city, which has lost four casinos this year.
But information on Stockton's plans for the Showboat property was limited, with the school citing a confidentiality agreement.
"Our intent is to engage in a project that enhances Stockton's educational growth, offerings, and cost containment, while at the same time brings new educational opportunities to Atlantic City," Stockton president Herman Saatkamp said in a news release.
"Because we are merely at the letter-of-intent stage and bound by a confidentiality agreement," he said, "it is premature for me to give out any additional information."
Some expressed high hopes the transformation of the former casino into a college would be a boost at least to the neighborhood, though what wider impact it would have on the struggling resort city was not immediately clear.
"I'm anxious to see details. Hopefully, it will be a positive thing in the city. We want Stockton to go and expand, clearly," said state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester).
"You realize," he added, "when colleges take over things, they don't pay taxes."
Stockton at the Showboat, said Mayor Don Guardian, would be "a great fit."
Stockton officials declined to provide any financial details.
Showboat was valued by the city in 2013 at $1.1 billion. On appeal, the valuation dropped to $625 million.
Recent Boardwalk sales include the bankrupt Revel property, sold last month for $110 million to Brookfield US Holdings L.L.C. of Toronto. Revel was built at a cost of $2.4 billion, with the help of $261 million in state tax credits. Brookfield has indicated it wants to reopen it as a casino.
In June, TJM Properties Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., paid $13.5 million to an affiliate of Caesars for the old Atlantic Club casino-hotel and $715,000 for adjacent property.
Len Scannapieco of Weichert Realtors, located at the Bella Condominiums a block from Showboat, said the Stockton purchase would be "a huge shot in the arm."
"In addition to a university coming in to energize and light up the community, it's going to immediately mean residual businesses, coffee shops, pizza shops . . . places where students will congregate."
In addition, he said, "it will naturally put a demand on rental units" for off-campus housing, and "the professors who choose to live nearby" might buy at the 200-unit luxury building, where two-bedroom units are for sale for $200,000 to $300,000. It's now about 75 percent occupied.
Mike Hauke, owner of the celebrated Tony Baloney's pizza shop a few blocks from Showboat, said business owners, police, and others had long thought a college would help the mostly desolate neighborhood at the north end of the Boardwalk.
The Showboat site - nestled between Revel and the endangered Trump Taj Mahal, with volleyball courts and a former House of Blues auditorium, two museums across the Boardwalk on the Garden Pier, the Steel Pier nearby, and a surfing beach at States Avenue - might work, he said.
"To put college kids in a gaming town might seem not to be a great mix, but kids are goofy, kids are fun. I think it's a supersmart move."
At Stockton's main campus, Mario Giordano, 22, a business major from Jersey City, welcomed the bid to expand beyond its Galloway Township borders.
"It's a good idea because it can certainly enhance the college's hospitality program," Giordano said. "And I think it could be a good thing for Atlantic City to reinvent itself as a college town."
Some others expressed concerns.
"Isn't that pretty far from here? It would seem like it would be two colleges instead of one," said Abby Taiwo, 21, a psychology major from Sicklerville.
Door to door, it could take up to 30 minutes to make the 12-mile commute between the Galloway campus and the proposed one at Showboat.
Luke Welch, 23, a psychology major who has lived in Galloway his entire life and whose parents were casino workers, disliked the idea of putting college students in a "Sin City by the sea."
"You're going to take college students and put them in the middle of a place where they will have direct contact on a daily basis with issues like gambling and drinking," he said, "which are already issues for college kids anyway."
The Showboat property includes about 28 acres and a 1,425,000-square-foot building. Stockton needs to complete due diligence before the deal can be completed.
Showboat closed Aug. 31, putting 1,630 out of work. It is one of four casinos to have closed in Atlantic City this year, causing an estimated 8,000 job losses. A fifth, Trump Taj Mahal, is in danger of closing, which could leave an additional 3,000 out of work.
"To walk past the [four] empty casinos on the Boardwalk is emotionally depressing for those who saw these things get built and know family and friends that worked for them," said State Sen. Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic).
Whelan, a former mayor of the city, said he was told that not all of the Showboat building would be owned by Stockton and that some hotel rooms would still be available for conventions.
"The bottom line is I think it's great for Showboat to have Stockton in Atlantic City," Whelan said. "I've been in favor of them expanding in the city for a long time." He noted that, in the 1990s, he had helped draw Stockton to its current Carnegie Center location in the city.
The college, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and the City of Atlantic City collaborated in restoring the historic Carnegie Library.
College in a growth spurt
Stockton, a public institution, has been in a period of growth for years, setting new highs for enrollment, graduation rates, and number of faculty hired.
This year, the school announced its fourth consecutive year of setting record highs in freshman-class enrollment.
Those numbers have pushed total enrollment to 8,552 students, also the largest in the college's history.
This year, Stockton finished a $25.36 million fund-raising campaign.
Over the last two years, Stockton has opened instructional sites in Manahawkin and Woodbine, its first locations in Ocean and Cape May Counties. Stockton also opened a site in Hammonton.
In September 2013, Stockton opened its 66,350-square-foot Unified Science Center; it has since broken ground on a 54,000-square-foot expansion, to open in 2017, that will double the capacity for faculty and staff in the School of Natural Science and Mathematics.
The college is also receiving state funding for a new, 60,000-square-foot academic building for schools, including its business, education, and health sciences units.
Other large construction projects include the 154,000-square-foot Campus Center, which opened in May 2011.
As Stockton grows, it has seen its name recognition grow, as well. In September, the school's trustees voted to authorize Saatkamp to petition for reclassification. If successful, Stockton College will become Stockton University.
Inquirer staff writer Harold Brubaker contributed to this article.