Deal On Delaware 43 Acres On Camden Side Are Up For Sale

Posted: April 22, 1997

Psst, want to make a killing in urban real estate?

How does 43 acres along the Delaware River waterfront near the New Jersey aquarium sound?

You can build to suit. The three big buildings there now will be taken out of the picture for you, probably by implosion and probably on or around Memorial Day.

The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) will even foot the $9 million bill for the demolition and site preparation, said DRPA spokesman Joe Diemer.

As a bonus, a high-speed, light-rail commuter line from Trenton may run through the area in the not-too-distant future.

While DRPA will clear the area, it will expect some payback.

When the property is sold or leased, Diemer said, ``We're going to participate in the revenue.''

Diemer calls the site ideal.

``In the northeastern United States, you just don't find 43 acres of riverfront property ready for development,'' said Diemer, whose background is in commercial real estate.

The property is currently owned by the Camden Redevelopment Authority, the Coopers Ferry Development Authority and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

The money for the implosion will come from a road project that never got off the boards.

Funds were escrowed decades ago during the design phase of the Walt Whitman Bridge for additional bridge ramps on the New Jersey side, Diemer said. New Jersey nixed the ramps and the funds sat untouched.

``We asked New Jersey to release the funds and allocate them for the development of the Camden waterfront,'' said Diemer.

The owners want to see the property used for a mixture of recreation, entertainment and business when it is developed.

The land likely will be bisected by the southern end of the 34-mile proposed light-rail line from Trenton. The light-rail proposal includes using the existing Conrail track from Trenton's Amtrak rail station, excepting a 1.5-mile stretch through downtown Camden.

The initial N.J. Transit cost estimates of $400 million to $450 million for the system, which would have diesel-powered, climate-controlled cars capable of carrying 80 sitting and 120 standing passengers.

NJ Transit spokeswoman Phyllis Elston called that ``a very admirable price per mile.''

``Most systems around the nation break out to be about $50 million per mile, and that's considered good,'' she said.

Elston noted one of the project's goals is connected to the 43 acres: development of Camden and its waterfront.

``We're sitting across the river in New Jersey, looking at Philadelphia flourishing, and there's no reason why we can't flourish as well,'' she said.

The light-rail system will include stops at the New Jersey State Aquarium at Camden, the Sony Blockbuster arena when an event is scheduled, Rutgers University and the Walter Rand Center, with a direct connection to PATCO, the DRPA-run High-Speed rail line linking South Jersey to Center City.

The NJ Transit board has ordered preliminary engineering work, a public-outreach program and environmental studies, all of which are to be completed in a year. At least 16 stops are planned along the Trenton-Camden route, but Elston cautioned that that's far from final.

``We're in the process of sitting down with town councils. It's entirely possible a station may fall away,'' Elston said.

The light-rail line, which could be completed as early as just after the millennium, is projected to eventually include a second segment, a 19-mile stretch south from Camden to Glassboro.

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