CAMDEN, NJ — The ever-changing waterfront district is adding a place to call it a night, the city's first hotel project in more than a half-century.
Officials broke ground Tuesday on the Hilton Garden Inn, an eight-story, 180-room hotel scheduled to open in October 2020. The property at 1 Penn St., formerly the site of Campbell's Field, will sit a handful of blocks from attractions like Adventure Aquarium and the BB&T Pavilion.
Nearly 35 years have passed since the lone hotel in Camden, the Hotel Plaza, closed at 5th and Cooper streets.
Visitors to the city with no hotel option would retire to nearby Cherry Hill or over the bridge to Philadelphia.
"This will be another reason why the county captures headlights instead of taillights," said freeholder Jonathan Young, pointing to Camden's importance to a strong South Jersey.
Developed by Ensemble Real Estate Investments, the project received $18.4 million in tax credits awarded by the Economic Development Authority.
Along the waterfront, incentives have allowed headquarters to be built for American Water ($164 million) and Conner Strong, the Michaels Organization, and RFI (combined $245 million). The Philadelphia 76ers used $82 million in tax breaks for the team's new practice facility further down Delaware Avenue.
Mayor Frank Moran at Tuesday's news conference lauded the incentive programs, which in total have doled out $1.6 billion for relocation to Camden. The comments underscore a near-daily defense from officials of the business influx.
"If it were not for the incentives that were provided to this city, what you see before us and what you'll see soon when this is complete would not have taken place," Moran said. "For those that doubted the city and continue to, you can't argue this."
But bringing this project to Camden wasn't an easy sell, according to Kam Babaoff, chairman of Ensemble Investments. He said efforts to secure financing were met with "many, many no's."
"We would call our bankers and they said, 'Where's the project? Camden? We can't get that past our investment committee,' " he said, "and that's all we needed to hear to make us even stronger and more determined to get this done."
The 5,000-square-foot hotel will feature dining and event space, with guest rooms offering views of the Delaware River, Ben Franklin Bridge, and Philadelphia skyline.
It is expected to bring about 75 new jobs.