Charter school seeking to buy historic Camden building

Posted: March 27, 2014

CAMDEN LEAP Academy University Charter, which enrolls about 1,300 students in three schools, is looking to acquire Camden's historic Wilson building to expand its footprint in the city.

LEAP is seeking the New Jersey Economic Development Authority's backing of a loan to purchase the historic building at 130 North Broadway adjacent to its campus, according to a legal notice posted by the EDA.

The EDA bond would not exceed $10 million for the 73,000-square-foot building and will be voted on at a hearing April 8.

LEAP already has a lower school (K-6), an upper school (7-12), and a specialized STEM High School (9-12).

Currently one in four students in Camden attend charters in the district of 15,000.

LEAP founder Gloria Bonilla-Santiago declined to comment on the plans for the building, which was erected in 1926, the same year the Ben Franklin Bridge opened.

In its heyday, the building, known as Camden's first skyscraper, headquartered Coca-Cola and Miller Brewing Co. along with high-profile law firms. It was vacant by the 1990s.

For Camden, it is desired real estate, next to three college campuses, down the block from Cooper University Hospital, and in walking distance to the Riverline and PATCO stations.

In October, LEAP's board approved a resolution to purchase the building being sold by Beneficial Mutual Savings Bank by putting down a $100,000 deposit to hold it, according to meeting minutes.

In a December 2013 meeting, the board approved two contracts for assessments of the Wilson building totaling about $11,000, according to minutes.

The building was renovated by Dysart Ventures, a development firm in New York City, in 2009 and includes 200 indoor parking spaces and three elevators.

In a 2009 interview with The Inquirer, investor George Trimis described the building's intended function as housing high-end office tenants, a restaurant, and retail stores.

Public records show Trimis bought the property in 2008 from the previous owner, Steve Rubin, for $3.5 million, according to the article.

Beneficial Mutual Savings Bank put the building on the market in 2013 using Philadelphia-based Binswanger as the listing agent. It is unclear when the property changed hands.

The building was constructed for $1 million by Camden lawyer John O. Wilson, for whom it was named. It also was known as the West Jersey Trust Building.


jterruso@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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