Camden, NJ—Camden's slogan for its revitalization came to life as the final steel beam of the waterfront's now-tallest building rose 18 stories to be set into place above a blue banner emblazoned with "Camden Rising."
Officials, business leaders and community members were gathered along the Camden waterfront on Tuesday to both watch, and celebrate, the symbolic completion of the office building’s structural phase.
The 394,164-square-feet building will serve as the headquarters for three New Jersey companies — Conner Strong & Buckelew, NFI and The Michaels Organization — and bring an estimated 1,000 jobs to the city.
“This seems to be a regular occurrence now, every few weeks there is a new event celebrating a special milestone in the city,” Mayor Frank Moran said.
The three companies join a number of other companies like of Holtec International, Subaru and American Water to relocate to Camden and earn tax incentives under the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Grow NJ program. Over 10 years, Conner Strong & Buckelew will earn $86 million, and both NFI and The Michaels Organization $79 million.
"Today is a huge step in Camden moving forward, and Camden as you can see, is truly rising, literally and figuratively,” said The Michaels Organization President John J. O’Donnell.
“We are excited about the growth that is taking place in Camden, we want to be a part of that growth and we want to continue to be a member of this community,” said Sid Brown, CEO of NFI.
For U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a resident of the Victor Lofts for 10 years, the building is right in his “backyard.”
“I haven’t seen this many people down here since Jimmy Buffett was playing,” said Norcross. “This is what transformation looks like.”
Norcross added that the construction of buildings like the Camden Tower means job opportunities for Camden residents as well.
“When we see these buildings going up, Camden residents are learning a trade. They are learning how to build things, not just here in Camden, but a job that they continue throughout their entire life,” said Norcross.
O’Donnell said it was the three companies “corporate responsibility” to invest into the community.
“We all share the same commitment to Camden moving forward,” said O’Donnell. “We collectively believe that it is our corporate responsibility—our moral obligation—to make Camden a better place to live, work and play.”
Cooper’s Ferry President and CEO Kris Kolluri called the day a “a tangible step in demonstrating what progress looks like.”
“The thing we are working towards is providing opportunities for residents of Camden, and for the region,” said Kolluri. “To make sure there’s amenities that benefit both the residents of Camden and the visitors. Ultimately, that is the way you build a sustainable, stable community.”
Jonathan Latko, who serves as the president of the Cooper Grant Neighborhood Association, has lived in Camden for 15 years and had bitter-sweet perspective on the coming development of the Camden waterfront.
“It’s the toughest thing,” said Latko. “In my entire lifetime, what really has happened that has had a significant long term impact? … Nothing changed, so I do agree 100 percent with how it played out? No, but was there anybody else who had a different idea that was better?
“If there is, I didn’t see it and they didn’t have the power to make it happen.”
One key player not in attendance Tuesday afternoon, but thanked repeatedly for his role in the project was George E. Norcross III, executive chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew.
“This is where he would shine, and to be honest with you, I really wish he was here because he deserves the top credit for everything that is going on here and picking the right partners,” said Michael Tigawad, president and CEO of Conner Strong & Buckelew.
“George [Norcross] talked to me for the first time about this 15 years ago,” Tigawad said. “I wasn’t quite as bullish at that time, but an awful lot of hard work has taken place over the last 15-plus years to get to where we are today.”