Camden, Transit

Ghosts of City Hall: The PATCO station you’ve never seen

If you’ve ever used PATCO’s City Hall station in downtown Camden, you might think it’s pretty simple. A red stairwell on the southwest corner of 5th & Market takes you down to a small concourse with fare machines, turnstiles, and a platform. If you’ve looked a little closer, you might’ve noticed a few interesting things, like the big steel doors that block off a passageway marked with a “TO COOPER ST” sign, or a gate that stops you from going anywhere but immediately through the turnstiles. Even if you could imagine that through those doorways lies a few extra parts of the station closed off over the past few decades, you might not have ever realized just how large a station City Hall really is.

Map of downtown Camden and the City Hall station.

Map of downtown Camden and the City Hall station, including my estimate for the reaches of the closed off pedestrian tunnels.

Before this morning, I definitely hadn’t. But thanks to a generous offer from PATCO General Manager John Rink to take a few curious PATCO fans on a tour of these closed off parts of the station, I finally got a chance to see how extensive these unseen parts really are. What follows is a tour starting from the current station open to the public and leading to both the northern and southern reaches of its underground pedestrian tunnels.

Closed off walkway to Cooper Street as seen from the stairs leading from the platforms.

Closed off walkway to Cooper Street as seen from the stairs leading from the platforms.

Stairway leading from the platform to the closed off north side of the station.

Stairway leading from the platform to the closed off north side of the station.

Do you have your ticket?

Do you have your ticket?

north side - stairs

Original stairway detail.

Extra paneling for PATCO stations.

Extra paneling for PATCO stations.

This is the northern station entrance area where the turnstiles used to be. You can see the now-closed off stairway on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets In the background.

This is the northern station entrance area where the turnstiles used to be. You can see the now-closed off stairway on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets In the background.

Old instructions for how to ride PATCO.

Old instructions for how to ride PATCO.

Looking back toward the open end of the station. This is what's behind the big gray door your saw in the first photo.

Looking back toward the open end of the station. This is what’s behind the big gray door your saw in the first photo.

Steps leading to the currently-closed off stairs on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets.

Steps leading to the currently-closed off stairs on the northeastern corner of 5th & Market Streets.

Old storage room door.

Old storage room door.

Old empty storage room.

Old empty storage room.

Walkway back to the open end of the station.

Walkway back to the open end of the station.

The stations' beautiful old tiling remains impressively intact.

The station’s beautiful old tiling remains impressively intact.

These are the old trash cans that used to be on the platforms before the Department of Homeland Security required DRPA to install clear plastic trash cans.

These are the old trash cans that used to be on the platforms before the Department of Homeland Security required DRPA to install clear plastic trash cans.

Another view of the closed off entrance and turnstile area.

Another view of the closed off entrance and turnstile area.

Extra station signage.

Extra station signage.

Just a storage room full of old meters from station parking lots.

Storage room full of old meters from station parking lots.

Looking back after continuing north toward Cooper Street.

Looking back after continuing north toward Cooper Street.

Like a few other stations, City Hall had a public bathroom.

Like a few other stations, City Hall had a public bathroom.

Signage to Cooper Street.

Signage to Cooper Street.

Long pedestrian tunnel to Cooper Street.

Pedestrian tunnel to Cooper Street.

It's a pretty long tunnel.

It’s a pretty long tunnel.

Caution-taped transformer room door.

Caution-taped transformer room door.

Still heading north to Cooper Street.

Still heading north to Cooper Street.

Just like at other PATCO stations, the end of the pedestrian concourse area gives you a choice of corners to exit from.

Just like at other PATCO stations, the end of the pedestrian concourse area gives you a choice of corners to exit from.

Stairway to one of the exits.

Stairway to one of the exits.

Closed off.

Closed off.

Crossing under Cooper Street to get to the other corner's exit.

Crossing under Cooper Street to get to the other corner’s exit.

Old gate and stairwell.

Old gate and stairwell.

Also closed off.

Also closed off.

Heading back south down the pedestrian tunnel from Cooper Street.

Heading back south down the pedestrian tunnel from Cooper Street.

Dust graffiti on the tiles.

Dust graffiti on the tiles.

Heading back to the open part of the station.

Heading back to the open part of the station.

This is the gate you see just before going through the present day turnstiles.

This is the gate you see just before going through the present day turnstiles. Going through it takes you south toward Arch Street.

Among other things, this area holds some storage.

Among other things, this area holds some storage.

Signage toward Market Street and Arch Street.

Signage toward Market Street and Arch Street.

More old doors.

More old doors.

This short tunnel leads to a stairway that took people across the street to the old Parkade building.

This short tunnel leads to a stairway that took people across the street to the old Parkade building, where Roosevelt Plaza Park currently sits.

This stairwell is the only remaining part of the Parkade building.

This stairwell is the only remaining part of the Parkade building.

Heading back down the tunnel.

Heading back down the tunnel.

Where the tunnel meets back up with the station.

Where the tunnel meets back up with the station.

Arch Street tiling continuing south and some old parking lot gates.

Arch Street tiling continuing south and some old parking lot gates.

Stairwell down to the tunnel to Arch Street.

Stairwell down to the tunnel to Arch Street.

Tunnel continuing south to Arch Street.

Tunnel continuing south to Arch Street.

Closed off exit.

Closed off exit.

 

Update: General Manager John Rink just sent me this original, February 1934 plan for City Hall station, which shows the sidewalk plan where the exits where to be located as well as the layout of the station itself.

Original, 1934 City Hall station plan.

Original, 1934 City Hall station plan. (Click to view larger.)

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Camden, Development

Why New Jersey taxpayers’ $118 million giveaway to Subaru won’t revitalize Camden (and how they’re creating a problem that will take decades to fix)

It’s often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but you rarely get to see it play out so perfectly in front of your eyes as it does here in New Jersey. In the summer of 2013, state legislators were busy revamping the state’s system of tax breaks that works to keep businesses in the state when they start to make noise about moving to take advantage of tax incentives from other states. In the race to the bottom in which American taxpayers bankroll corporate operations with little to no net benefit, New Jersey is clearly a frontrunner.

The state has given hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to projects ranging from an “entertainment complex” in the Meadowlands to multiple corporations moving their headquarters just a few miles down the road. But after years of the majority of tax breaks going to North Jersey interests, State Senate president Steven Sweeney (who represents parts of Gloucester, Cumberland, and Salem Counties) pushed back to get the reworking of the tax break system, the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, to focus more on South Jersey. As an NJ.com article from the time reports:

“A bill to overhaul how the state lures businesses has been loaded with last-minute sweeteners for South Jersey and pushed by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. The New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act, a mammoth bill supported by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, now sets aside deals for the state’s eight southern counties, especially Camden.”

Ever since then, Camden has received the bulk of the state’s tax breaks. Far from promising to revitalize the city, they’ve gone to a few politically connected entities. But there was one project that was supposed to be a game changer for the city. Subaru of America, currently located on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, was granted a $118 million tax incentive to move a few miles west to the Gateway district of Camden, where Campbell’s Soup has a vision to create South Jersey’s version of Philadelphia’s successful Navy Yard. That Subaru would take the incentives and move to Gateway was seen as potential progress toward the goal of actually realizing the revitalization of that part of the city.

Sadly, it appears as though we were all taken for fools. As news of the plans for their headquarters came out last week, it came to light that this would be no game-changing, world-class headquarters. The plans call for a building shorter than the current headquarters in Cherry Hill. Brandywine Realty Trust, which has developed some wonderful buildings in Philadelphia, wants to build a squat suburban headquarters located in a sea of over 1,000 parking spaces. Inga Saffron has written a spot-on evaluation of the failure of this plan in today’s Inquirer.

The suburban style campus surrounded by parking that Subaru wants to bring to Camden.

The suburban style campus surrounded by parking that Subaru wants to bring to Camden.

From the perspective of those who thought, maybe, these tax breaks might actually lead to positive change in the city, as everyone working toward them has claimed, disappointment is the kindest word for what we are feeling. Devastation, bewilderment, and disgust are far more apt. This project could not be more disengaged from the city. Those parking spots guarantee that every single Subaru employee will drive in to work in the morning, stay on campus to eat lunch, and drive home at night. They will not interact with the city. Even if they wanted to, they are hardly given the chance. Employees would have to traverse a punishing sea of asphalt to get out of the suburban-style office park.

And the site’s lack of engagement isn’t the only issue. This asphalt will complicate the poor drainage that this part of Camden experiences. Even today, Admiral Wilson Boulevard constantly floods. Subaru has decided to not even incorporate rain gardens to address runoff that they saw fit to construct in their Cherry Hill and Pennsauken campuses. There are a few trees dotted throughout their parking lot which they claim add green space. It is a transparent attempt to pull one over on all of us.

When Campbell’s broadcast to the world that they were committed to building a forward-looking office complex in the Gateway district, they created glossy renderings of a successful future. Looking at Subaru’s plans for this site, it’s impossible to not conclude that that was a only marketing ploy for future tax breaks, and that no such office complex will arise. New Jersey taxpayers have once again been duped by greedy corporations and small-minded politicians who live in an alternate universe where tax breaks, trickle-down economics, and forcing suburbanization onto a city really works.

This is what Campbell's wants us to think Gateway will become. This will not happen with the current development mentality.

This is what Campbell’s wants us to think Gateway will become. This will not happen with the current development mentality.

This plan, should it get built, will set the city back decades. Successful cities and towns all around the country are working to undo the harm caused by sprawling development. Here in New Jersey, office parks like this are going empty as people seek dynamic, urban environments to work in. What Subaru is doing here is guaranteeing that South Jersey will pay for the privilege of living in an increasingly obsolete development model, truly a dying past, for decades to come.

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Built Environment, Camden, Development

Why it matters that Camden won an award for its parking lots

All throughout the month of March, the website Streetsblog USA held a competition to find the worst misuse of space in America’s cities. There were contenders from across the country from cities like Boston, Los Angeles, Syracuse, Detroit, and Fort Worth. As their website says, the competition’s goal is find “sorriest wastes of urban space [we] can find” in the form of the massive parking lots that scar the urban fabric of cities across the country. Given my neighboring city of Camden’s high number of parking lots on its supposedly-valuable waterfront, I decided to enter it into the competition to give these huge wastes of space some visibility beyond South Jersey.

The reaction was more than I could have hoped for. Comment after comment lamented the wasted opportunity presented by these parking lots. They talked about things like how much they separate the waterfront from the city. How people working in the office buildings there are utterly disconnected form the city. One commenter enumerated the wealth of public transit options that surround such a huge collection of parking lots:

“Camden has the potential to be very walkable. There’s Walter Rand Transportation Center, with dozens of NJTransit bus routes and the RiverLine light rail to Trenton, which connects with the heavy rail Atlantic City Line in Pennsauken and the Northeast Corridor in Trenton, with NJT rail to NYC and multiple Amtrak connections. There’s PATCO subway service into Center City, which is one of the nation’s only 24-hour rapid transit lines. There’s also the seasonal ferry to Penn’s Landing, and not to mention being walking / biking distance over the Ben Franklin right into the heart of Philadelphia.”

Overall, the theme was clear. These parking lots could be doing so much more than sitting there storing cars. The opportunity of transit-oriented developments in the heart of the metropolitan region is as immense as the waste of space created by the lots. Worse still, land that the Cooper’s Ferry development organization has slated for productive development for ten years has sit idle. These lots do nothing but tear the urban fabric of the waterfront the shreds.

To their credit, the neighborhoods these lots are located in, Cooper-Grant and Central Waterfront, have been coming up with plans to become a viable neighborhood. But walking through these neighborhoods, it’s clear just how much these parking lots hurt that effort. You can’t build a vibrant place when there are football fields worth of asphalts between you and where you want to go. You can’t feel cozy and safe in a neighborhood where one entire block is taken up by a corporate office’s big blank walls, as is the case of Market Street and the L3 buildings.

In the end, the choice was obvious. Camden’s horrible parking lots won the Golden Crater.

It’s my hope that the local urbanist and development community, along with the city and Cooper’s Ferry, recognize that there’s a city waiting to be set free from the bad decisions of the past. Downtown Camden is closer and has better transit connections to the jobs of Center City Philadelphia than most of Greater Philadelphia, including neighborhoods even within Philadelphia itself. These lots could be actually be transforming Camden into a vibrant city; instead, we’re left to imagine that tax breaks to rich companies will do the same, which they certainly will not.

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Camden, Development

Plans revealed for more development near the Camden Waterfront

Last night at a meeting of the Camden Planning Board, a final site plan was given approval for a project involving a historic warehouse on the Camden Waterfront. Located directly across the street from Campbell’s Field at 300 North Delaware Avenue, the warehouse dates from the late 19th century and was used as the Ruby Match factory and later as storage for Campbell’s Soup. The full details can be seen in this briefing from the Cooper-Grant Neighborhood Association, but the essentials are:

  • Changing the building from warehouse zoning to office and retail zoning.
  • Adding two floors to the interior of the building to create a total of 71,520 square feet of office space, which will be leased to a specific but as-of-yet unnamed tenant.
  • Creating a 4,000 square foot retail space on the southwestern corner.

It’s an exciting project, given that it retains one of the few remaining historical assets in downtown Camden, and that it includes a retail component whose audience will surely include the hundreds of new employees coming into the city.

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Camden, Food and Drink

This Saturday is your last chance to check out Cooper River Distiller’s Camden Cocktail Club

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Every Saturday for the past few weeks, James Yoakum has been holding hours at his Cooper River distillery in downtown Camden. (If you haven’t heard of him, here’s an article to catch you up on the second distillery to open in New Jersey, and the only in South Jersey, in recent years.) He’s calling the September events the “Camden Cocktail Club”, and they usually last for a good part of the afternoon at 34 N. 4th Street. There’s a huge array of drinks to try, from unique creations like Petty’s Island Punch, a mix of rosé, rum, and amaretto, and Camden Cream, which involves rum, Kahlua, and half-and-half, to classic mojitos and piña coladas, all delicious. The distillery itself is a great space, and James plays a welcoming host happy to show you what he’s up to and give you some insight into how it came to be that he’s distilling rum in the City Invincible.

If you haven’t been to check it out yet, this coming Saturday would be a great time to do so. Here’s some info on this weekend from their website:

“September 27th, 2014 – Cowboy Up & Drink ‘em Down – 2:30pm – 7:00pm – Ever feel like you ‘shoulda been a cowboy?’ We’ll this is your chance! Whether or not you’re going to the Toby Keith concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center you’re invited to stop by the distillery for free tours, cowboy-themed cocktails, and a boot-scootin’ playlist of James’ favorite country tunes! Black Eyed Susan’s food cart will also be here providing some delicious cowboy grub! Country-western attire awarded with drink discounts! Up-to-the-minute info here!

If you’re going to the CFET benefit concert featuring Kevin Eubanks at Rutgers’ Gordon Theatre, present your ticket for 1/2 priced cocktails from 5:30-7:00pm!”

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For more information, check out the distillery’s packed events page at http://cooperriverdistillers.com/CRD/?page_id=402

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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.

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Camden

Rutgers-Camden students present ways to tackle the city’s problems

This past Wednesday night, I had the honor of attending the Camden Policy Project Kickoff, an event put on by Rutgers-Camden professor Stephen Danley and students from his Camden, Philadelphia, and the Region class. The event was an opportunity for his students to present their suggestions for how to tackle a wide array of issues the city is facing. There were six groups of students giving presentations and soliciting feedback on their ideas from members of the community. Overall, it was a fascinating event. There was a huge crowd despite the fact that the region was in the middle of having one of its worst rain storms ever. Here’s just some of what we talked about.

  • Development. Partnering with the city’s artists to bring art to the public spaces as a placemaking effort to help bolster pride in the city. One idea was to help artistically transform the Walter Rand Transportation Center, a very visible city institution sitting at the intersection of multiple bus and rail place. Placemaking is a popular idea right now, and it’s easy to understand why. As suburban sprawl has homogenized regions, bringing people together around a particular geography and promoting it as a culture brings us back to a time when we were proud of where we lived. This was one of my favorite ideas, because if Camden needs anything in its relationship with the outside world, it’s a message of pride of place.
  • Housing. Rehabbing and providing housing to homeless writers and artists, an effort that has been put forth within the past few years in Detroit. It’s an interesting idea, and I love any efforts to bring housing to the homeless. It’s crazy to me that there are homeless people in a city with such a high vacancy rate.
  • Education. Questioning the constant standardized testing and its effects on students’ ability to learn and interest in subjects at school. I graduated way after Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind were implemented, but it sounds like adults are effectively sucking any joy out of education there was to be had for today’s students.
  • Healthcare. The students detailed how the city has no urgent care centers or non-hospital emergency room places for people to go when they’re sick, which is something that suburban communities take for granted. Even not having just evening hours for care in the city is a huge detriment to residents’ healthcare. There is also little effort in educating residents about the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to provide coverage for the very people who go to hospitals’ emergency departments for non-life threatening illnesses.
  • Regionalism. This struck a particular chord with me. One student brought up the same exact thoughts I’ve written previously about, that is, how no one knows about Camden outside of the city, even if you grew up in the suburbs. The groups suggestion was to help expose the city to the surrounding suburbs as a way to humanize it in the face of constant negative news coverage. Another idea the group came up with was to provide shuttles to area grocery stores, given that Camden currently has none for its entire population.
  • Faith-based Initiatives. The idea this group had was to create a central organizing office in the city government to bring together charitable organizations who can help address issues and possibly supplement the work of other organizations already in the city.

All of these issues are available for much further reading on the wiki the class has created for these issues, the idea being to give their research and ideas over to the population in general so as to encourage a continuing dialog once their semester ends. You can find that at http://camdenpolicy.wikispaces.com/.

In the end, what really impressed me was the sheer number of people in attendance who cared deeply about the city. Not only were the students engaged with the issues, but every member of the community was too. They were interested in hearing what the students had to say and generous with their thoughts and advice for them. The honest discourse about the city was refreshing when you’ve been used to sensational newspaper articles that paint the city as some mysterious “other” you should never visit.

What I would love to see is for the city administration to invite these students to present their ideas to city and state leaders (since so much of the city is managed by Trenton) for serious consideration. Their ideas deserve an honest audience with those in whose hands the fate of the city rests. Not every solution can be implemented, whether due to a lack of money or political will, but there’s no reason we can’t start a discussion about how to address the city’s problems. And honestly, enthusiastic young people like these are exactly the people we should be listening to, because the adults at the helm haven’t exactly figured out how to get Camden out of the troubles it’s in.

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