End in sight for Camden's Parkade demolition

A crane stands ready at the demolition site near Camden's City Hall. The last beam came down last week, and cleanup should be done by the end of July.
A crane stands ready at the demolition site near Camden's City Hall. The last beam came down last week, and cleanup should be done by the end of July. (CLAUDIA VARGAS / Staff)
Posted: June 29, 2011

For decades, people walking out of Camden City Hall's west door were forced to look at an ugly, rectangular, five-story brick-and-metal building.

Now, after three months of demolition, they can feel a breeze, and take in the Philadelphia skyline straight ahead as well as historical structures in Camden's downtown.

The infamous Parkade Building is dead. Its remains are spread over the three-acre site that is to be turned into Roosevelt Plaza Park, a green space with benches and bike racks.

"In its heyday, it was a real gift to the city," Saundra Johnson, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency, said of the Parkade.

The Parkade Building, next to City Hall on the 500 blocks of Market and Federal Streets, replaced a park similar to the one that is planned. It opened in 1955 and was meant to help redevelop downtown with its mixed-use design. It served as a parking garage, office space, and bus station, and housed a couple of eateries.

But with every decade that passed, more people moved to the suburbs, and businesses followed. At the turn of this century, the building was found to harbor the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease.

In 2003, the Camden Redevelopment Agency voted to demolish the structure, but there were legal fights between the building's owner, Nedmac Associates of Burlington County, and Camden County, a tenant, over its condition. There was also a $1.6 million asbestos-removal process. The last of the tenants moved out in 2007.

The $1.5 demolition project started in April, with Winzinger Inc. of Hainesport having 120 days to complete the project, including removing all debris, Johnson said. A $2.4 million state Green Acres grant helped fund the project.

The last beam came down last week, and Johnson expected the cleanup of the site to be done by the end of July.

City developers will work on the park and aim for an early 2012 completion. However, the park might not be as elaborate as city officials once hoped.

With only a $500,000 budget, the idea of an underground parking garage was thrown out. The garage would have cost more than $6 million, plus operational costs.

"We will work with what we have," Johnson said, adding that the city is always "open for donations."

Some critics of the park say tax-paying restaurants and shops would have been a better alternative. But city officials believe the park will encourage the public to go to Camden's downtown.

Parking around City Hall will continue to be a hassle as the area around the Parkade - from Market to Federal and Fifth to Sixth Streets - will be fenced off until the project is completed.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.

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