Hardly a block of downtown Camden offers a continuous, traditionally urban array of buildings. Some blocks haven't had anything — other than a parking lot — on them for decades. Others hold a single, suburban-style structure, such as a bank branch with a drive-through.
Along Cooper Street, once the city's finest address, most of the surviving real estate is no longer residential or commercial, but rather, institutional. Even the 12-story Wilson Building at the corner of Cooper and Broadway, described as "Camden's First Skyscraper" when it opened in 1926, is being converted to educational use — and will be off the tax rolls.
Among the handful of other landmarks in this depressing, economically exhausted landscape is the Commerce Building, which rises eight stories above Broadway and Federal. Designed as a "mixed use" structure, with retail on the first floor and offices above, it was supposed to be downtown's salvation when it opened on the site of an extinct department store in 1965.
But like so many projects dating from Camden's well-intentioned "urban renewal" heydey, the Commerce Building failed. It's been all but empty for 20 years. And as my colleague Jonathan Lai reported Sunday, it is expected to be torn down to make way for a ... parking garage.
Forget, if possible, the Kakfa-esque machinations Lai described, the series of arcane manuevers through which the city and its agencies acquired the property by eminent domain.
Contemplate, instead, the end game of their machinations and maneuvering: More places to park.
Apparently, like the generations of politicians and professionals who collectively helped make such a monumental mess of the city's commercial core — who, in truth, helped destroy it — the latest round of politicians and professionals have decided that what absolutely must be built amid the sea of parking lots and vacant lots and streets devoid of stores in downtown Camden is ... more parking.
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