A multimillion-dollar effort to demolish nearly 600 vacant properties in Camden has hit a snag.
National Demolition & Recycling, the Hamilton Township-based contractor set to do the vast majority of the work, has walked away from the job, reportedly over concerns about the cost of removing asbestos and liability issues.
City officials, however, are scratching their heads. Camden spokesman Vincent Basara said everything raised by National in a letter sent out last week was discussed before it got the bid.
“There may have been some confusion, lack of due diligence.” said Basara.
Paul Abdalla, National Demolition’s CEO, declined comment Wednesday.
The struggling city of row houses must now find replacements for National, whose winning bid covered 531 properties.
The second phase of the project was split into five contracts. National earned all of them after submitting bids far lower than its competitors.
Basara said the city already plans to award one of the now-available contracts to Wizinger Inc. of Burlington County. The company submitted a bid back in December.
The fate of the remaining four contracts is still up in the air. Basara said the city is re-evaluating earlier bids, but might also solicit new ones.
“We don’t expect significant delays,” he said.
The city expects to complete the project in 12-18 months.
Pilar Hogan-Closkey is among those who hope that timeline holds true. She’s executive director of the St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society, which rehabs properties in the city.
“Getting rid of any of the houses that are blight right now that need to be demolished makes a huge difference for the family living next door or across the street and not constantly having to worry about what’s going on in that derelict building,” said Hogan-Closkey.
Colandus “Kelly” Francis, president of the Camden County chapter of the NAACP, said amid those fears, property values have plummeted.
“The city of Camden probably has the lowest property tax bases in the state of New Jersey,” said Francis.
North Jersey-based Tricon Enterprises was hired to raze the remaining 62 buildings during the first phase of work.
To date, only one house – a property on the 1500 block of Louis Street – has been demolished. That took place during a ceremony last month touting the effort.
But Basara said to expect “increased activity” next week.
The demolitions are being financed by a city-issued bond and a community block grant.
A nonprofit organization has estimated that Camden has more than 3,000 vacant properties.