Has state takeover helped Atlantic City turn the corner?
ATLANTIC CITY -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is taking a victory lap in Atlantic City, saying his hard-fought takeover of the struggling gambling resort is starting to pay off with projects like a new university campus and a major casino investment.
But the national head of the NAACP and local officials of the civil rights organization are wary of the state's intentions and are particularly afraid that the city's water system will fall into private hands.
The Republican governor attended the groundbreaking Thursday of the $220 million complex that will house a satellite campus of Stockton University and the corporate headquarters of South Jersey Gas. It comes on the heels of Hard Rock International's purchase of the shuttered Trump Taj Mahal casino, with plans to reopen it next year.
Christie said the takeover enacted last November with the support of the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature, is starting to put the city on an austerity diet that is attracting new investment.
"This project truly demonstrates that we've turned the corner in our efforts to turn around Atlantic City," Christie said. "Now what you're seeing is what happens when people are vigilant stewards."
The takeover gives the state control over Atlantic City's assets and most of its major decision-making power, including the right to sell off properties like the municipal utilities authority. That is the main reason the NAACP's national president Cornell Brooks plans to visit Atlantic City, said City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, the city's NAACP branch president.
"The Municipal Utilities Authority should remain in public hands, and the city's water should remain publicly controlled," he said, citing fears that changes to the water system by unelected officials could result in the type of danger to public health that occurred in Flint, Michigan, when the city's drinking water source was switched, leading to widespread lead contamination.
The Stockton project is the culmination of a long, and initially botched, process of establishing a long-sought urban satellite campus in Atlantic City.
In 2014, Stockton bought the former Showboat casino, hoping to establish its campus there. But the university failed to resolve a thicket of conflicting legal restrictions on how the property could be used, and then sold it to Glenn Straub, who also owns the shuttered Revel casino.
But that deal fell apart, and Stockton then sold the building to Philadelphia developer Bart Blatstein, who re-opened it as a non-gambling hotel with provisions to train Stockton students in the hotel and hospitality trades.
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