A view of the Camden waterfront — Courtesy: New Jersey Economic Development Authority
By Joshua Burd
In Camden, Tim Lizura now has a story to tell when he speaks to people from around the state — and he can point to real projects and examples of stakeholder support that show that the city has all the makings of a place that can in fact be turned around.
“I use it as an example for all of the ingredients that a city needs to really make a material change to their prospects,” Lizura said, pointing to eds and meds, local leadership, county support and “folks who are taking ownership” of the school system. “It really is all fronts advancing at the same time in that city.”
Such is the promise of an 8.75-acre site in the city that the state Economic Development Authority has been marketing in recent months, as a host of high-profile development projects and investments continue nearby. The property, located just north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, is one that the authority has dubbed “the most valuable piece of real estate” on the northern Camden waterfront as it has marketed the parcel to would-be developers.
The site is the former home of the Riverfront State Prison, which has long since been demolished. Interested developers have until Wednesday, April 12, to respond to a request for qualifications to acquire and build a mixed-use project at the site.
“We think this a great time for investors to get in with an opportunity to take advantage of a rising market in a site that really has unique sightlines and water access,” said Lizura, president and chief operating officer of the state Economic Development Authority. “It might very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for developers.”
The EDA recently extended the original deadline for responses to April 12, hoping to ride the wave of recent milestones that had been in the works for some time. In late February, Liberty Property Trust broke ground on a new 220,000-square-foot headquarters for American Water Works Co. that kicked off a $1 billion redevelopment on another piece of the waterfront. Weeks later, the EDA approved $245 million in tax credits for Conner Strong & Buckelew, NFI and The Michaels Organization to also move to the site with a 375,000-square-foot office tower.
Lizura, who noted that “timing is everything in real estate — right after location,” said pushing the deadline back by several weeks was an easy call in light of when the announcements took place. He added that “we don’t know what the responses would have been because nobody ever sends in a response before a deadline,” but believes there was interest at the time.
Especially considering the recent completion of other major projects in Camden, including the opening of the Philadelphia 76ers’ new headquarters and practice facility and Holtec International’s new $300 million headquarters and manufacturing complex. And those projects join a growing list of facilities that are opening in the city’s higher education and health care sectors.
“If you just drive around, certainly it’s a city that you wouldn’t recognize from 15 years ago,” Lizura said. “That’s for sure.”
The authority also said the former prison site in Camden “presents an opportunity for developers to take advantage of the highest amount of incentives,” plus property tax abatements, available through the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.
The sale is being done through a two-step RFQ/sealed bid process:
- Step 1: EDA will accept qualifications through April 12 at 2 p.m. Based on the criteria outlined in the RFQ, the EDA will establish a short list of eligible respondents.
- Step 2: EDA will issue a bid package to eligible respondents and accept sealed bids.
- If necessary, the EDA will issue and accept best and final offers.
The final sale and development will be subject to various approvals, including a review committee designated for this purpose, the state Department of the Treasury, the EDA board and the State House Commission.
The EDA said the sale and development of the property must be consistent with the North Camden Waterfront Study Area Redevelopment Plan, which called for creating a vibrant, mixed-use district that provides new opportunities for riverfront recreation and attracts sustainable development. The plan also calls for connecting existing residential neighborhoods to the waterfront.