Atlantic City moves to help plan to convert former Showboat casino into college campus

Industries Associated Press

The City Council in Atlantic City is expected to pass a plan Wednesday that could help the former Showboat casino be re-opened as a college campus.

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The designation of the site as a redevelopment zone would prohibit it from being used for a casino and allows Stockton University to establish a campus there. It also could end a rival casino's attempt to block the conversion into a college.

Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Trump Taj Mahal casino next to the Showboat, is enforcing a 1988 legal covenant among it, the Showboat and Resorts, specifying that the Showboat can never be used for anything other than "a first-class casino resort."

But the redevelopment zone being adopted by the council takes direct aim at that, specifically prohibiting "casino hotels, whether first-class or other" from operating at the site.

Trump Entertainment CEO Bob Griffin told The Associated Press the council's action won't affect his company's opposition to a college campus next door. The company fears students under the legal age of 21 will sneak in to gamble and drink, exposing the casino to costly fines. It has suggested that Stockton use the former Atlantic Club casino at the southern end of the Boardwalk for their satellite campus.

Caesars Entertainment closed the still-profitable Showboat in August in the name of reducing competition in the Atlantic City casino market.

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Stockton, whose main campus is several miles west in Galloway Township, has long wanted to establish a satellite campus in the city. It bought the shuttered Showboat in December for $18 million, and announced plans to use it for what it dubbed its "Island Campus."

Stockton officials say they knew about the existence of the 1988 covenant, but were assured that it had been worked out. The university has refused to say who made that assurance to them.

Last Friday, Florida developer Glenn Straub bought the Showboat from Stockton for $26 million, and said he plans to let Stockton use it as intended. Stockton, expecting continued legal problems, included a provision in its deal with Straub giving it an 18-month right to buy the building back or lease it for educational purposes. It also included a 90-day escape clause, allowing the university "to continue with its plans to open a residential campus in Atlantic City beginning in the fall of 2015 while evaluating any possible legal challenges from Trump Entertainment."

If both sides cannot resolve the dispute, it is likely the matter will end up in court soon, because Stockton needs to take steps to prepare for the arrival of students within a few months.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC