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Cascade: No. 82, Winter/Spring 2013

One River — Two Cities*

Located directly across the Delaware River from each other, the Philadelphia and Camden waterfronts are being transformed from abandoned post-industrial areas into a single, thriving regional waterfront destination through an interconnected transportation network and joint programming and marketing.

Thomas Corcoran served as founding president and CEO of the Cooper’s Ferry Development Association (CFDA) in Camden, NJ, for over 25 years. He spearheaded the development of the Camden waterfront and was successful in attracting over $550 million of investment, including many family entertainment flagship projects. Corcoran also transformed the CFDA from a downtown waterfront organization into a citywide development corporation that provides technical assistance on revitalization to neighborhoods along Camden’s miles of waterways, particularly the North Camden and Cramer Hill neighborhoods.

In 2009, Corcoran became president of the newly formed Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) in the city of Philadelphia. The DRWC, a nonprofit, was established by Mayor Michael Nutter to act as the steward for the redevelopment of Philadelphia’s underused Central Delaware Waterfront. The DRWC’s mission is to encourage high-quality investment in public parks; trails; waterfront, residential, retail, and hotel development; and other improvements that create a vibrant atmosphere and extend development in Philadelphia to the river’s edge.

Anthony J. Perno III was appointed president and CEO of the CFDA in 2009. Having previously served as vice president and COO, Perno was a long-time colleague and protégé of Corcoran and played a key role in the development of over $30 million of infrastructure upgrades throughout Camden. As CEO, Perno has continued to lead the redevelopment of the Camden waterfront and has also continued to help further the organization’s mission to expand to include community and downtown development initiatives.

In 2011, Perno and David Foster, president of the Greater Camden Partnership, completed an organizational merger to create the Cooper’s Ferry Partnership (CFP). The new corporation leverages Camden’s cultural, natural, and institutional anchors to spur the revitalization of Camden’s neighborhoods and downtown with a targeted development and civic programming strategy.

What are the current waterfront development strategies for Philadelphia and Camden?

Corcoran: The city of Philadelphia is working to transform its Central Delaware Waterfront into a vibrant destination for recreational, cultural, and commercial activities that benefit all citizens and visitors to the city. This targeted area extends six miles along the riverfront, from Oregon Avenue to the south to Allegheny Avenue to the north. In 2011, the DRWC completed the “Master Plan for the Central Delaware,”1 which provides a detailed framework of open space, cultural and environmental resources, transportation, and economic development.

In the waterfront area, adjacent to Center City, the DRWC envisions a mixture of residential, entertainment, and retail uses organized around a network of high-quality open spaces and served by an improved transportation system with enhanced access for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit users. Providing low- to mid-rise housing along with retail businesses, cafés, restaurants, and entertainment will help to establish the area as a year-round destination and will allow it to serve existing and new residential communities.

The plan calls for public and civic spaces and a waterfront trail to connect the parks and stimulate private development. Waterfront parks will incorporate best practices in sustainability to restore ecological health to the river and to create access for communities that have been cut off from the water for decades.

While the plan has a time horizon of several decades for full implementation, the DRWC has identified three priority sites — Washington Avenue, Penn’s Landing, and Spring Garden Street — where strategic public investment will be focused first on catalyzing short- and mid-term private investments.

Red Bull Flugtag drew thousands to the Camden, NJ, waterfront in September 2012 to watch pilots launch hand-made flying machines into the water.Red Bull Flugtag drew thousands to the Camden, NJ, waterfront in September 2012 to watch pilots launch hand-made flying machines into the water.
Photo Credit: Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

Perno: In 1984, the three principal owners of the waterfront land — the city of Camden, the Campbell Soup Company, and RCA — jointly commissioned a planning study to evaluate the development potential of their collective holdings located between the Ben Franklin Bridge and the South Jersey Port. The study determined that the waterfront could support a carefully planned mixed-use development of family entertainment and recreational and cultural attractions.

Working since the 1980s in cooperation with local, county, state, and federal public-sector partners, as well as with the private sector, the CFP has been able to put into place the building blocks for a mixed-use waterfront community anchored by family entertainment attractions.

The CFP has coordinated more than $75 million of infrastructure improvements, including the extension of the downtown street and utility grid onto waterfront parcels and the creation of a 1.3-mile linear waterfront park and promenade. The CFP also established the RiverLink Ferry and helped to design the route for the New Jersey Transit RiverLINE through downtown Camden.

These investments in public infrastructure and transportation have leveraged a critical mass of development projects and have established a new center of economic activity in Camden. In 2012, the Camden waterfront:

  • Retained and generated in excess of 2,200 full-time jobs and 1,000 seasonal positions;
  • Contributed about $3 million to the city’s tax base;
  • Generated in excess of $2 million in annual state sales tax revenues (ticket sales for entertainment venues); and
  • Generated in excess of $250,000 in tax revenues for parking operations and over $500,000 in tax revenue from food and beverage sales (for entertainment venues).

Development projects have included entertainment anchors such as the Susquehanna Bank Center, the Camden Children’s Garden, Campbell’s Field, the Battleship New Jersey, and the Adventure Aquarium. There are several successful office developments, including the corporate headquarters of Susquehanna Bank. The former RCA “Nipper” Building was converted in 2004 by developer Dranoff Properties into luxury waterfront apartments, the first new housing on the waterfront and the first market-rate housing in the city in 30 years.

The development of the balance of the waterfront master plan will take place through a phased development program that will include roughly 1,200 new units of market-rate housing; 500,000 square feet of Class A commercial office space; 100,000 square feet of retail, dining, and entertainment space; and a hotel conference center.

Key economic development projects on and near the waterfront in Camden, NJ. The Battleship New Jersey, which was decommissioned in 1991 and opened as an educational museum in 2001, is shown in the foreground.Key economic development projects on and near the waterfront in Camden, NJ. The Battleship New Jersey, which was decommissioned in 1991 and opened as an educational museum in 2001, is shown in the foreground.
Photo Credit: Cooper’s Ferry Partnership

Are the Philadelphia-Camden waterfront development agencies collaborating? If so, how?

Corcoran: The cities of Philadelphia and Camden share a waterfront across a river as well as across municipal and state lines. Together, the Greater Philadelphia waterfront receives roughly 3.5 million visitors a year. With 28 million people living within 100 miles of Philadelphia, it is clear that there is untapped potential. By packaging the waterfronts of Camden and Philadelphia as a unified destination and by providing connecting transportation to Philadelphia’s historic district, Camden and Philadelphia could start to draw more visitors for longer stays.

Perno: The CFP and the DRWC increasingly work together to develop and market programs, including annual weekend fireworks displays on New Year’s Eve and Independence Day and other coordinated events, such as the WHYY Connections Festival and the XPoNential Music Festival. The CFP and the DRWC are also working to improve rail, bicycle trail, and ferry connections between the two waterfronts.

By working in tandem, both cities will benefit from the additional demand for housing on the waterfronts, from growth gained by supporting retail services, and from tourism resulting from visitors extending their stays in both Philadelphia and future Camden hotels.

How do the waterfront development plans of Philadelphia and Camden affect the cities’ downtown areas and neighborhoods?

Corcoran: Center City Philadelphia and adjacent residential communities have seen dramatic residential and business reinvestment in recent years. The DRWC seeks to draw residents, workers, and visitors from Philadelphia’s thriving Center City to the riverfront.

One major challenge is the infrastructure of I-95, which creates a psychological and physical barrier between the waterfront and Center City. The DRWC is improving existing street connections that cross under the highway, making them safer and more welcoming, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. Street connector projects enhance public access between the waterfront and the adjacent communities of Whitman, Pennsport, Queen Village, Society Hill, Old City, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, and Port Richmond.

Perno: The downtown waterfront was the first section of Camden to attract private reinvestment, and it has served as a catalyst for redevelopment within the entire downtown area, which is home to key anchor institutions such as Rutgers University-Camden, Rowan University, Camden County College, and Cooper University Hospital.

The CFP has partnered with these entities, as well as with local, county, and state governments, to rehabilitate roads, streetscapes, and parks and to maintain a clean, safe, and welcoming public environment through the Camden Special Services District (CSSD). The CFP recently expanded the CSSD to include landscaping, snow removal, and other projects and plans to employ 20 local residents by this spring.

Camden’s educational and health services institutions are making massive investments in the city’s downtown, including the new $139 million Cooper Medical School at Rowan University and a $55 million Rutgers-Camden graduate student dormitory. In addition, Cooper University Hospital is constructing a $100 million state-of-the-art cancer treatment center. The CFP is working with these institutions to develop a strategic investment and economic development plan that will leverage institutional resources to create a vibrant university district and health-science campus.

The growth of the educational and health-care services sector in downtown Camden and on the Camden waterfront is mutually supportive. Waterfront housing, restaurants, entertainment, and recreational amenities help these institutions to attract and retain students and workers.

In Camden’s neighborhoods, the CFP is working to link residents and communities with the city’s natural assets, such as its waterways, and to work with community-based organizations to develop a riverfront greenway trail and programs for youths.

What priorities and main projects have been initiated by the DRWC and the CFDA during the past two years?

Corcoran: The DRWC’s first task was to develop the “Master Plan for the Central Delaware.” The DRWC worked with a consultant team, led by Cooper, Robertson & Partners, through a planning process with governmental, nonprofit, and civic organizations; property owners; and other stakeholders. The plan was completed in October 2011 and was adopted by the Philadelphia Planning Commission. The plan received a 2012 American Institute of Architects’ Honor Award as well as the Economic Development Program of the Year Award for 2012 from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC).

In 2011, the DRWC transformed a dilapidated pier at the foot of Race Street into a public park that is widely used by residents of Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. The DRWC also managed improvements to Race Street, including repaving, landscaping, and promoting public art, which give pedestrians safer and more welcoming access from Old City to the Race Street Pier and the Delaware River.2

In response to the master plan and the public improvements that are now planned and funded, over 700 new units of waterfront housing have been proposed by developers and approved by the Philadelphia Planning Commission. In addition, a major new entertainment complex is being developed by Core Realty adjacent to the Fishtown neighborhood.

The DRWC believes that it is important to include minority, women, and disadvantaged business enterprises in proposed redevelopment activities. The DRWC has worked with the Mayor’s Office and the Urban Affairs Coalition to develop an economic opportunity plan that sets forth an aggressive set of inclusionary goals and practices for the DRWC’s development and operations activities. The DRWC strives to direct 25 percent to 30 percent of its discretionary expenses for operations and capital investments to minority business enterprises, women’s business enterprises, and disadvantaged business enterprises.

Perno: In 2012, the Camden waterfront attracted a record 3 million visitors. In addition to its major attractions, the CFP is drawing residents and visitors to the waterfront with high-profile national touring events, such as Red Bull Flugtag and Cirque de Soleil; local events, such as the holiday tree lighting and fireworks displays; and small-scale programming at Fountain Park.

The CFP is working with Dranoff Properties to convert the former RCA building into Radio Lofts condominiums. Our organization is also in predevelopment on a 27,000-square-foot three-story Class A office building, which is already more than 50 percent leased.

The CFP has implemented over $10 million of public improvement projects to upgrade parks, roads, and utilities in the downtown and in several neighborhoods with the support of the city of Camden, Camden County, the state of New Jersey, and the DVRPC. The CFP is working to improve public access to the river in North Camden through the rehabilitation and expansion of Pyne Poynt Park. With the support of the William Penn Foundation and the Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, the CFP has worked with the North Camden community to identify strategies to improve waterfront access.

What is the role of financial institutions and nonprofits in future plans for the Philadelphia-Camden waterfront?

Corcoran: In Philadelphia, the role of financial institutions will be critical to future development plans. Initially, financing for large-scale public projects will require the involvement of public agencies. I anticipate that the DRWC will rely heavily on the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to secure financing for the initial retail, entertainment, hotel, and office projects. Ultimately, these public investments will build a critical mass of successful projects that will lead to a larger role for financial institutions.

The DRWC has two financial institutions on its board of directors: Wells Fargo and Valley Green Bank. The DRWC has strong relationships with many other nonprofits, such as local neighborhood organizations, the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Live Arts, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and the Natural Lands Trust.

Perno: In Camden, large-scale publicly financed projects have paved the way for private investment. Camden needs the involvement of private financial institutions to make loans and investments in future residential and commercial developments. Representatives from several banks, including Susquehanna Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC, and TD Bank, serve on the CFP’s board of directors.

In the past 10 years, the CFP has broadened its mission to work with waterfront neighborhoods throughout Camden to reconnect to their waterways. Through the grant support of the financial institutions on our board, the CFP has established strong, productive partnerships with community-based nonprofits in every neighborhood in which it works.

Recently, the CFP has also been building relationships with environmental organizations to support our trail development and green infrastructure initiatives.

What are the issues and challenges affecting future waterfront development in Philadelphia and Camden?

Corcoran: One major challenge in Philadelphia is assembling land parcels for development. Within our project area, roughly 90 percent of the land is privately owned. The DRWC will need steady support from the local and state governments for permit approvals and public-sector support for the development of amenities such as parks, trails, and transit to attract private investment.

Perno: While the pace of development has slowed with the recent weak economic times, the Camden waterfront is well positioned to benefit during the next upswing in the economy. The CFP has developed the public infrastructure called for in the master plan and now needs to develop a significant number of housing units and complementary retail services and restaurants to create a 24-hour community.

The CFP also wants to help existing low- and moderate-income neighborhoods leverage their riverfront access to improve quality of life and to attract reinvestment back into these communities.

Thomas Corcoran can be contacted at 215-629-3200. Anthony J. Perno III can be contacted at 856-757-9154. For more information about the Philadelphia and Camden waterfronts, visit delawareriverwaterfrontcorp.com External Link and www.camdenwaterfront.com External Link.

  • * The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
  • 1 To see the plan, go to http://www.plancentraldelaware.com/ External Link.
  • 2 These projects were made possible through support from the city of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), and the William Penn Foundation.