ATLANTIC CITY - The Showboat's transformation from a Mardi Gras-themed gambling destination into a college campus can now begin.
Richard Stockton College announced Friday that it had completed a deal, made public last month, to purchase the Boardwalk casino-hotel for $18 million.
Showboat is one of four casinos - along with Atlantic Club, Revel, and Trump Plaza - that have closed this year in the struggling resort. Atlantic Club and Revel are still actively looking to secure buyers, while the city has plans to implode Trump Plaza.
"Stockton is committed to Southern New Jersey's continued social and economic development," college president Herman Saatkamp said in a statement Friday. "Our roots officially began at the former Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City, and as our campus has expanded, so has our mission to provide higher education, research, and community partnerships that enhance the region and state.
"As Stockton develops a full-service residential campus awarding undergraduate and graduate degrees and other professional training, the opportunities for city residents to find good jobs will rise."
That comes as welcome news for a resort city that has seen more than 8,000 casino jobs disappear because of the closings. A fifth casino, Trump Taj Mahal, is threatening to close if the owner and casino union fail to reach a deal next week.
Stockton said that it purchased the 1.73 million-square-foot casino-hotel from Caesars Entertainment Inc., Showboat's corporate parent, with funds from the college's Investment Fund, and that no state-appropriated funds or new debt were used. The school also said it would not increase tuition because of the purchase.
Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, whose first year in office has turned into crisis management, was elated by the news. Casino tax appeals and closures have depleted city revenues to fund services.
"Having Stockton come to my city is a game changer," Guardian said. "We are so excited to welcome the future students to come to a top-rate educational institution in a world-class tourism destination with beautiful beaches and a famous boardwalk. The students will have the time of their life while getting a great education."
"This is a positive step toward diversifying our economy and putting people to work," said Assemblyman Chris A. Brown (R., Atlantic).
Brown introduced legislation to remove deed restrictions on casinos that are closing after Caesars Entertainment announced that it was closing Showboat while keeping its other Atlantic City properties - Bally's, Caesars and Harrah's Resort - open.
"Stockton's acquisition of the Showboat exemplifies the efforts of the governor and legislative leadership to bolster Atlantic City's nongaming offerings," said Gary Loveman, chairman and chief executive of Caesars. "The diversification of activities available in Atlantic City stands to benefit all of the city's stakeholders."
Stockton expects to have the hotel portion of what it is calling Stockton-Island Campus operating by late spring, with some summer classes to follow. Full academic programs are expected to begin in fall 2015.
The former gaming floor will be used for academic, administrative, and community purposes, the college said. Included would be about 20 classrooms, 10 lecture facilities, music, dance and choral instruction rooms, an experimental theater, and dance studio.
Saatkamp said Showboat's conversion into a college campus was far more economical and less time consuming than new construction. Ground-up construction, he said, would require approvals and permits.
He compared a residential complex with 320 beds on Stockton's Galloway campus, which cost $48 million in 2008 to build, with two planned towers for the Atlantic City campus as part of the $18 million price tag. He said Towers 2 and 3 in Atlantic City would include 852 rooms for student housing, dining, parking, and recreational facilities.
Saatkamp said the new campus eventually may offer a full set of student services, such as admissions, financial aid, and residential-life staff.