CAMDEN, NJ — A new park along the waterfront has brought a former slab of gray into a visually-stunning grassy landscape of multiple elevations.
It highlights the new American Water headquarters that towers over the space, drawing more attention from across the Delaware River.
But officials have loftier goals in mind with the newly-unveiled beautification of the RCA Pier, a 2.2-acre blend of trails, lawn areas and plant life that mark the city's 12th park created in the last five years.
"We want to build parks that rival the best in the country, if not the world," said Kris Kolluri, CEO of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, "because we think that's the opportunity to make a mark and return Camden to its glory."
That was a point close to a century ago when the city's parks flourished. Lack of resources led to a decline in a parks system that helped Camden stand out across the nation.
Officially opened Thursday afternoon, the green addition to the central waterfront has called back to some of the local history. The park is located on the 98-year-old pier that once served as an extension of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Most recently it was a parking lot for the Ferry Terminal office building.
"What we now have is an opportunity to reclaim assets that are the residents' assets and give them spectacular vistas to come enjoy," Kolluri said. "This is not about a waterfront park, this is about a peoples' park."
Funding for the $3.5 million park was provided by developer Liberty Property Trust and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres Program. Additional grant money for maintenance and watershed education, as well as further planned additions to the space, came from the William Penn Foundation.
It was a quick process by the team involved, Kolluri said, as less than a year ago residents got the chance to join developers to first discuss design ideas for the park.
"You could close your eyes right now with the beautiful breeze and imagine you're anywhere in this world, but you know where you are? You're in the great city of Camden," said Moran, speaking before a sizable gathering of visitors atop the park's central hill.
He told those attendees from out of town that next year, they will have a place to stay in the forthcoming Hilton Garden Inn, just a couple blocks over.
Moran envisions the park becoming a destination for must-have pictures or even wedding photos, the way in which spots in many large cities become famed.
"It's another piece of the puzzle that we're excited about," said Moran, who noted that he stopped by the park with his wife on Monday to join others taking in the views.
For Shawn McCaney, executive director of the William Penn Foundation, it's encouraging to see the recovering status of the Delaware River with both aquatic life and human activity returning.
He said he believes that as members of the Camden community begin to enjoy another spot along the river, they will have a reason to maintain its health.
"This project will not only provide a new public access point for the river, it will bring people closer to the river, and hopefully learn to appreciate the importance of keeping it clean," McCaney said.
The park has free wifi, bike racks, and benches. Residents and visitors will be greeted by engaging signs and a public arts display that is currently being commissioned. These details among others were born out of a community outreach process, Kolluri said.