A rendering of the proposed Camden Tower in Camden — Courtesy: Conner Strong & Buckelew
By Joshua Burd
Three prominent South Jersey companies, including the insurance firm run by business and political leader George E. Norcross III, have unveiled plans to move their headquarters to Camden under a proposed $245 million office tower on the city’s waterfront.
The leaders of Conner Strong & Buckelew, NFI and The Michaels Organization on Friday announced plans for the 375,000-square-foot, 18-story tower, having submitted applications for the project under the state’s Grow New Jersey program. The applications are expected to be considered by the state Economic Development Authority at its monthly board meeting on March 14, with the firms seeking a total of nearly $245 million in tax credits over 10 years in connection with the projects.
If approved, the companies would begin the process of moving each of their national headquarters to Camden. The projects would bring more than 850 jobs to the city as a result.
Conner Strong & Buckelew, a national insurance brokerage, risk management and employee benefits brokerage and consulting firm, is currently headquartered in the Marlton section of Evesham. NFI, a supply chain and logistics firm, is based in Cherry Hill, while The Michaels Organization, an affordable and mixed-income housing developer, is also based in Marlton.
Dubbed Camden Tower, the new project would rise within Liberty Property Trust’s massive $1 billion redevelopment area known as The Camden Waterfront. Late last month, the developer kicked off the project by breaking ground on a new 220,000-square-foot headquarters for American Water Works Co. Inc.
With timely approval and no unexpected delays, Camden Tower would be ready for occupancy in August 2019, according to a news release.
“When The Camden Waterfront was announced almost a year-and-a-half ago, we lauded the vision and commitment to Camden,” said Norcross, the executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew and the chairman of the board of trustees of Cooper University Health Care. “If our applications are approved by the EDA, we will each be investing tens of millions of dollars and aligning the futures of our companies with the future of Camden.”
If constructed, the new building will stand 18 stories tall with separate office space for the three companies and shared amenity space, the news release said. The project also includes structured parking for employees and visitors and an outdoor piazza overlooking the Delaware River and the Philadelphia skyline capable of accommodating 1,000 people.
The news comes a few months after the leaders of the firms announced the purchase of the Ferry Terminal Building, which was the first privately funded office building in Camden in almost 50 years when it was built in 2007. The firms may also invest as much as an additional $100 million in new apartments and a hotel to be developed as part of The Camden Waterfront, they said, bringing their total commitment to the city to more than $350 million.
“If approved we will be able to maintain NFI’s headquarters in Camden County and grow our employee base there, reinforcing our continued commitment to South Jersey and the communities NFI has been a part of since its founding in 1932,” said Sid Brown, CEO of NFI, who owns and manages the firm with his brothers. “The focus of our new building’s design will be on the employee experience.
“The building and surroundings will offer our employees the first-class office space and amenities they deserve, making NFI an even more appealing and exciting place to work.”
Camden is riding a wave of investment with the help of the Grow New Jersey program, which was established under the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. The city, one of five in the state that qualifies for bonus incentives and lower eligibility thresholds, has celebrated the completion of projects such as Holtec International’s new $300 million headquarters and manufacturing complex and the Philadelphia 76ers’ new headquarters and training facility.
The American Water Works project is slated for completion in late 2018. The construction of Subaru of America’s new headquarters in the city is also underway.
“We are incredibly excited about the future of Camden and about the future of our Organization being headquartered there,” said John J. O’Donnell, president of The Michaels Organization. “This move will enable us to offer our growing workforce a world-class, state-of-the art headquarters location in a city that is once again poised for greatness.”
In their announcement Friday, the firms noted that the incentive programs do not provide cash grants. Under Grow New Jersey, the tax credit is divided and paid annually over 10 years, starting only after the project is completed and the pledged retained or created jobs are certified.
The firms also touted the large amount of private-sector capital being invested in Camden as a sign that years of effort to turn the city around is working. They touted successes such as the replacement of the city police department with a county force — resulting in a dramatic drop in crime — along with drops in poverty and an overhaul of its school system.
They also pointed to other major business investments such as the October 2013 opening of the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, a state-of-the-art, $100 million facility. A year earlier, the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University opened in the city and has since graduated its first class.
Due to the successes, Camden was awarded its first creditworthy bond rating in 15 years, the news release said. In April 2015, the city was named a federal “Promise Zone,” which helps high-poverty areas compete for federal aid and boost economic activity, reduce violent crime and upgrade standards of living for city residents.
“I hope that our applications are approved, and I look forward to not just being a cheerleader for Camden, but being a corporate resident,” Norcross said.