Camden, Development

Is more Carl Dranoff on the way for the Camden Waterfront?

The “East Village” townhouse project, as shown on the Camden Redevelopment Agency’s website.

From what I can tell, Carl Dranoff’s relationship with Camden is a curious one. On the one hand, his opening salvo aimed directly at Camden’s wonderful but dilapidated old waterfront warehouse buildings was right on target. The Victor Lofts has been a huge success, so much so that the Courier Post wrote an article about how the residents of the building love it, even if it’s an island in a downtown with not much else to do. Despite its isolation, its loft apartments get rented and its downstairs bar stays busy, especially on nights when there are other things going on downtown. Overall, it seems to be doing quite well.

On the other hand, the building that the Philadelphia-based developer hoped to turn into condominiums ten years ago, the old RCA building right next door to the Victor Lofts, sits awaiting its moment in the spotlight. The Radio Lofts, as they would be called, are holding steady, though the condition of the building was worrisome enough that blogger Brian K. Everett published an article on his NJ Poverty Reality blog earlier this month about its seemingly deteriorating conditions. The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article that same day reporting that although the city’s redevelopment agency assured them the building was safe, it would inspect it for problems to be safe. Dranoff Properties itself is quoted in the article as remaining “committed to Radio Lofts.” Though no progress is visible from the outside, environmental remediation is purportedly taking place.

Meanwhile, details have emerged of yet another Dranoff project on the waterfront, this time from the ground up. At its August meeting two weeks ago, the Camden Redevelopment Agency had on its agenda the following item:

Resolution Authorizing an Application for and Acceptance of a Grant in the Amount of $206,000 from the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund for Supplemental Remedial Investigation of the Camden Waterfront – East Gate Village Site

According to the redevelopment agency’s website, the project “is proposed construction of 113 residential units, including three-story and four-story townhomes and a mid-rise loft building. Future phases for East Village will add mid-rise and high-rise townhomes and two, 30-story residential towers.” The resolution has its boundaries as “south of Campbell’s Field, north of Market Street, and between the Delaware River and Delaware Avenue.” It notes that the current parcels are used as parking for Rutgers University and for the Adventure Aquarium.

Anecdotally speaking, I can believe this is project is in motion. Earlier this year, work finished on a Cooper Street extension that brought the street’s end closer to the river. In an article discussing the project, both Mayor Dana Redd and Donald Norcross (who’s currently running for US Congress as representative of the vacant 1st  district, which includes Camden) praised the project, whose goals are to “improve traffic and pedestrian flow; create new public access to the river and county’s waterfront promenade park; extend the existing street grid in the downtown; and create the future building blocks for development of waterfront parcels.” It seemed crazy to me that the city would spend money to extend a street into a parking lot for no reason if something wasn’t immediately planned for the lots.

Another perplexing development has been the creation of a “temporary” parking lot on the site of the old riverfront prison, just north of the Ben Franklin Bridge, by the Cooper’s Ferry development partnership. For a waterfront with so many parking lots already, why would they need more? Perhaps because of parking that will be displaced by this project. They’re amazingly tight-lipped about what the end goal really is, but I have to imagine it’s related.

In a city where the back room deal is the way things get done, I’m sure we’ll be left in the dark about as much as this as possible. But if in the end, a nice new project is built on what’s currently a depressing parking lot, it can only be a net gain for the city.

The lots on the waterfront where the East Village project would be located.