The latest plan for developing what's now a sea of parking lots on the formerly industrial waterfront in Camden calls for 300 homes and 1.7 million square feet of office space, a project spurred on by the promise of tax incentives for major regional businesses who relocate to one of the nation's most impoverished cities.
For decades, the site has been a centerpiece for visions of remaking Camden.
Back in the 1990s, there was a plan to build an aerial tram over the Delaware River to Philadelphia. Then there was supposed to be a museum dedicated to the history of recorded sound, a nod to RCA, which had offices, recording studios and factories there. Those and other ideas never came to fruition, though the waterfront does have a minor-league baseball stadium, aquarium and concert venue bookending the blank spaces south of the Ben Franklin Bridge.
If the latest hopes for the waterfront are realized, it will be largely because of a 2013 state tax incentive law that has already sparked a building boom in Camden.
"In previous years, the advantages of the Economic Opportunity Act were not in place," said Louis Cappelli, the director of Camden County's freeholder board. "That's the game changer."
He also said he has confidence in the developer that has signed on.
Liberty Property Trust, based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, has already turned Philadelphia's former Navy Yard into a thriving office park, it is building a second skyscraper for Comcast, and it manages some of the biggest office buildings in Center City Philadelphia.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie was expected to take a break from his presidential campaign to join Liberty officials and Democratic Mayor Dana Redd to announce details of the plan Thursday afternoon.
Cappelli said a handful of major area companies, including the law firm Archer & Greiner, based in Haddonfield and Philadelphia, and the Cherry Hill-based supply chain company NFI Industries, are among several firms planning to move to the mixed-use development.
Cappelli said construction would be swift so businesses can get the tax incentives. He said the project may be complete within five years.
Several of the businesses have connections to George Norcross, a Democratic powerbroker and champion of Camden. For a time, Norcross and Liberty chairman Bill Hankowsky were both members of a local investment group that owned The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The Cooper Health System, where Norcross is chairman of the board, is already moving office jobs to Camden, and Norcross has been active in recruiting other firms to the city.
Under New Jersey's tax incentives, which were adopted by a Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed by Christie, firms that move into Camden can receive tax credits over 10 years equal to the amount they spend on construction. They have to meet conditions, including bringing an agreed-upon number of jobs to the city and keeping them there.
Among those moving include the Philadelphia 76ers, who are building offices and practice facilities near the waterfront, and Subaru, which is moving its North American headquarters to another section of Camden from suburban Cherry Hill.
So far, nearly all the companies that have agreed to move to Camden have come from nearby towns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Some Camden residents have said they fear that the people who live in the city won't benefit from the new, mostly white-collar jobs.
Much of the waterfront property is owned by the state government and is exempt from city property taxes.