2018-10-10 / Voice at the Shore

New Stockton AC campus brings promise and opportunities for entire community

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Leo Schoffer, vice-chair of the Stockton University board of directors and a former Jewish Federation president, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Stockton University’s Atlantic City Campus on September 20. Pictured behind Schoffer were (from left), New Jersey Assembly Majority Speaker Lou Greenwald, Stockton President Harvey Kesselman, New Jersey State Senator Chris Brown, and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson. Leo Schoffer, vice-chair of the Stockton University board of directors and a former Jewish Federation president, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Stockton University’s Atlantic City Campus on September 20. Pictured behind Schoffer were (from left), New Jersey Assembly Majority Speaker Lou Greenwald, Stockton President Harvey Kesselman, New Jersey State Senator Chris Brown, and Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson. Move over, Ann Arbor and Amherst; “There’s a new college town on the scene…and our College Avenue is the Atlantic City Boardwalk,” said Leo Schoffer, Stockton University’s vice chairman of the board, to a crowd of hundreds that came to witness the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Stockton’s Atlantic City Campus on September 20.

The event took place on the boardwalk near Albany Avenue, on a stage set up just behind the new Stockton AC residential complex, amidst wind-whipped banners proudly proclaiming the AC campus tagline of “Beach Front Living and Learning.” Schoffer, a former Jewish Federation president who chaired Stockton’s Atlantic City Task Force, took the stage with a long line of speakers that included Stockton President Harvey Kesselman, project partners, and local and state politicians.


Celebrating the Ribbon-Cutting for Stockton's AC Campus on September 20 were (from left), Leo Schoffer, vice chair of the Stockton University board of directors and a former Jewish Federation president; Jewish Federation Board member Helene Hordes; and Stockton board member Andy Dolce. Celebrating the Ribbon-Cutting for Stockton's AC Campus on September 20 were (from left), Leo Schoffer, vice chair of the Stockton University board of directors and a former Jewish Federation president; Jewish Federation Board member Helene Hordes; and Stockton board member Andy Dolce. The Stockton Atlantic City Campus, which opened to students in early September, features a beachfront dormitory for more than 500 students, a 56,000-square-foot academic center, and an 879-car parking garage. The new complex at 3711 Atlantic Avenue, built across the street from where the former Atlantic City High School once stood, also includes the new headquarters for South Jersey Industries.

President Kesselman described the new campus as a “multi-million dollar public-private collaboration, which will bring huge returns.” In addition to providing new opportunities for Stockton students, the new campus is expected to breathe new life into the AC economy and encourage more people—especially young adults—to make Atlantic City their home.

“We are so excited to become part of this city,” said Stockton Faculty Senate President Donnetrice Allison, who spoke on behalf of the faculty. “We as faculty pride ourselves on hands-on learning opportunities,” she said, noting that the AC campus would bring many more.

AC Mayor Frank Gilliam, who strongly supported the construction of the new campus, said he was excited about what it would mean for AC residents, especially children who will now grow up with a university campus in their backyard that they can dream about attending. “The future of Atlantic City’s children is most important. This is great for them. Education is key.”

Gilliam, a Stockton alum, spoke with a passion born of personal experience. “I probably would not be standing here without the education I received at Stockton,” he said.

The new Stockton AC campus is good news for the local Jewish community as well, said several of the many Jewish community members who attended the ceremony.

“We’re very excited that there’s a new cultural and educational institution on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City,” said Kirk Wisemayer, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Atlantic & Cape May Counties. “It bodes well for a strong future for AC and the Jewish community that resides here.”

“Having a campus by the sea will attract more students, and some of these students will likely be Jewish,” added Jewish Federation President David Lieberman. “This could mean another Hillel by the sea, minyan by the sea, Shabbat by the sea.”

Doug Stanger agreed, saying the campus will make Stockton more appealing to observant Jewish students. With Rodef Sholom, an Orthodox shul with daily minyans, and three kosher restaurants “a long walk or a jitney ride away, this campus could be a magnet for Jewish students looking for this sort of thing close by,” said Stanger, who lives in the area and takes advantage of these offerings.

The Stockton AC Campus is also in a good location for adults in the local Jewish community, who are interested in accessing Stockton’s continuing education and cultural opportunities but don’t want to drive all the way out to Galloway, he added.

“What’s good for Atlantic City is good for the Jewish Community, and this is definitely good for Atlantic City,” concluded Stanger.

Stockton Vice Chair Schoffer has long held this view. Speaking at a Jewish Business Network meeting on the future of AC two years ago, Schoffer insisted that the new AC campus would “change the culture of AC,” and this in turn would majorly impact Jewish life here. The state of the Atlantic City economy “affects our businesses, it affects whether or not our kids want to come back here and live in this county, and it affects the future of all Jewish-affiliated organizations,” he said.

The opening of Stockton’s new AC Campus, like the recent openings of the Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casinos, is yet another sign that AC’s economy is on its way up, said many speakers.

“We’re seeing the birth of a new economy in Atlantic City,” said New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney.

Sweeney praised Kesselman for helping realize the state’s goal of diversifying Atlantic City’s gambling-based economy to include the winning combination of “eds & meds”—with Stockton bringing in the missing educational piece to add to AtlantiCare’s medical side.

“Dreams do come true, I guess,” he added. “This project was talked about for decades… the city is moving forward in a wonderful way.”

New Jersey Assembly Majority Speaker Lou Greenwald agreed. “Two years ago, this city was literally days away from bankruptcy,” he recalled. At the time, many people did not support the idea of a Stockton Atlantic City Campus, he added. “People said no one would come, that parents aren’t going to want to send their kids here,” he said, noting that the dorm is now completely full.

He added that the campus “is the first non-casino development project here in years,” and represents “a legacy that can be built upon. We’re going to build from here down that boardwalk until this city is turned around!”

Jon Hanson, board chairman for AC Devco, the developer for the Stockton project, echoed this sentiment, saying the campus is likely to expand in the near future. “We can more than double the presence of Stockton in AC,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see where we go next,” said AC board chair Maddie Doninger. Schoffer agreed. “As we’ve said, this is only the beginning,” he said.

Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said when he promised the county’s support for the campus, “I didn’t know it was going to be $127 million and that I was going to have to put the full faith and credit of the county behind it.” But he would have supported it even if it cost $200 million, he added.

“This is going to be the greatest project Atlantic City has ever had, going back to the creation of the Boardwalk,” said Levinson. “This is going to be a university town.”

Even those who weren’t invested in the project seemed optimistic about the new campus. “It’s nice to see this part of the boardwalk come alive with young people and hopefully all the amenities [the new campus] may bring,” said a woman who lived nearby, who came out to see why so many people had gathered on the boardwalk that morning. 

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