The real estate developer behind the Comcast Center and the Navy Yard complex in Philadelphia now has its sights set on New Jersey.
Under a proposal announced Thursday, Liberty Property Trust would build two tall, silver towers and a series of smaller buildings that would house offices, residential space, shops, a hotel, and a park on the Camden waterfront just south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
With a $1 billion price tag, the project would be the largest private investment in the city’s history.
“[Camden residents] have waited far too long and had far too many false starts and empty promises,” said Gov. Chris Christie, who took a break from the campaign trail to attend the announcement Thursday at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden.
“Yet now we’ve seen over the last five years that each of those three elements I’ve mentioned — public safety, public education, and private investment — are now all happening in this city.”
Ambitions for the project, flatly dubbed “The Camden Waterfront,” are high. Developers envision a Camden so flourishing and attractive that it would connect and compete with Philadelphia in a way the city never has before.
According to Liberty CEO Bill Hankowsky, Camden’s progress on public safety and attracting business has started to make that vision — and investment in it — possible.
“There’s a momentum and a sense that this is a place that maybe is on the rise and not necessarily a place that’s on the decline or simply, you know, dormant,” Hankowsky said.
But there was also hope among attendees that the project could spur growth and investment in the neighborhood and throughout Camden itself, a promise other projects had failed to fulfill.
“The aquarium, although a wonderful thing for children, I would suggest to you when it was constructed didn’t result in a single thing happening around it,” said South Jersey businessman George Norcross, an investor in the project.
“[Campbell’s Field] — a $30 million stadium — I don’t think represented any economic development around.”
Liberty is not applying for state tax breaks through the state’s Grow NJ program for this project, but Hankowsky suggested it could be a selling point for any companies that may want to locate there.
Liberty could break ground as early as next fall and open The Camden Waterfront to occupants by late 2018.