Camden waterfront gets first new market-rate apartments in 15 years

Ethel Halley is one of the first residents to move into 311 Cooper. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Ethel Halley is one of the first residents to move into 311 Cooper. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

New high-end apartments have opened on the Camden waterfront for the first time in 15 years.

The 156-unit complex known as 11 Cooper boasts expansive views of the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge and is the latest structure to go up in Camden with the help of controversial state tax breaks.

A community space with a fireplace and shuffle board table looks out at the Ben Franklin Bridge at the new 311 Cooper apartments. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The project is owned by CP Residential, a partnership between insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew, logistics company NFI and homebuilder The Michaels Organization — the same companies that were awarded a combined $245 million in tax breaks to build and relocate to a shared 18-story corporate headquarters next door.

For Ethel Halley, 61, a development assistant at The Michaels Organization, the convenience of living a short walk from her office was irresistible. She became one of 11 Cooper’s first tenants when she moved last week from Southampton in Burlington County.

Camden’s first market-value river-front housing, 311 Cooper, (right) celebrated its opening Monday morning. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“When they were making the move here to the waterfront, I thought about the fact I’m out in the woods, I’ve got quite a longer commute, and this was like just the ideal situation for me,” she said at a grand opening event on Monday.

Halley lives with a cat named Cat (the name, she says, was her daughter’s idea) and no longer has to drive more than an hour to work.

“I get to see the bridge lights at night and it’s just moments way to walk to the park,” she said, referring to the newly renovated green space along the river. “I’m really enjoying it so far.”

The rooftop terrace of the 311 Cooper apartments looks out at the Ben Franklin Bridge. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments are currently renting for between $1,240 and $2,170. Thirty-one of the units are designated for moderate-income residents, providing discounts of several hundred dollars.

About half of the units are rented so far, said Timothy Ledrew, a leasing agent there.

11 Cooper is the first market-rate apartment complex to open its doors in the neighborhood since developer Carl Dranoff converted the old Radio Corp. of America “Nipper” Building into apartments in 2003.

It comes on the heels of the groundbreaking last month for the city’s first new hotel in 50 years. More than 1,000 housing units are currently being built or renovated in the city, said Kris Kolluri, who leads the nonprofit redevelopment group Cooper’s Ferry Partnership.

John O’Donnell, CEO of the Michaels Organization, and Camden Mayor Frank Moran share the scissors in cutting the ribbon on the new 311 Cooper apartments. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The project received $18 million in tax breaks under the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program, or ERG, one of two economic development programs due to expire at the end of the month as Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers argue over their future.

Tax credits handed out under the Gov. Chris Christie-era Economic Opportunity Act — totaling more than $7 billion since 2013 — have become a flashpoint between Murphy and fellow Democrats in South Jersey.

Camden officials and their allies have credited the programs with helping to fuel an unprecedented “renaissance” in the city in the form of more jobs and better schools.

But a Murphy-appointed task force has dug up evidence of potential corruption and self-dealing in how some companies won the awards, including those linked to George Norcross, a South Jersey powerbroker with deep Camden ties.

Norcross is the executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, one of the companies with an ownership stake in both 11 Cooper and the office tower next door.

Sandra Turner-Barnes is a poet whose work is featured at the 311 Cooper apartments. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Of the $1.6 billion in tax breaks awarded to lure employers to Camden, $1.1 billion went to businesses with ties to Norcross or one of his brothers.

Norcross visited the apartments Monday for a news conference celebrating the grand opening. Asked to comment on the raging controversy over the tax incentive programs, Norcross declined.

But he did confirm he would soon become a tenant at the new building, just steps from his office.

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