The ugly mountain of crushed metal heaped at the foot of the Platt Memorial Bridge near the airport - the gateway to Philadelphia for millions of visitors - could soon be gone.
You know the gritty area: 26th Street and Penrose Avenue in South Philadelphia, bordered by a refinery tank farm, a wastewater treatment plant, and billboards hawking booze, burgers, and cars. The Champs Elysees, it's not.
Camden Iron & Metal Inc., which has owned the yard since the 1980s, reducing cars and washing machines to mounds of scrap, is looking to move and consolidate its metal-shredding operation and shipping business at a single location.
Some in South Philadelphia would be happy to see it go.
Now, it might. The scrap recycler, founded in 1929 by the Bantivoglio family of South Jersey, has an agreement to buy the former 63-acre Foamex International site on East Second Street in Eddystone.
Camden Iron president Joseph Balzano Jr. said, "We have an option on it. We are in our due-diligence period to make sure that we can get everything done. There are still pieces of the puzzle we haven't concluded."
Balzano said the Foamex site, with seven buildings, "is definitely a good fit for us. It's off the beaten track, in a very industrial area, shielded on all sides so you can't really see it from the roadways."
"We're just a couple steps away from being able to say, yeah, we can move there."
To help with capital improvements for pier and port development at the new site, Pennsylvania has authorized a $31.1 million grant, to be funneled through the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.
The state Office of the Budget has released the money, said John Estey, port authority chairman. The PRPA board is poised to approve the transaction once a real estate deal is "inked and is ready to go."
"I know there are some details that have yet to get worked out there with the local Eddystone community," Estey said.
Camden Iron has been looking since 1998 to combine the metal shredding operation at 2600 Penrose Ave. with its business shipping a million tons of scrap iron a year out of Beckett Street Terminal in Camden.
Scrap is now trucked to Camden from Penrose Avenue.
The lot, which Camden Iron bought in the 1980s from Philadelphia Shredding Co., is separate from a city-owned vehicle impound lot off Penrose Ferry Road, on the opposite end of the Platt bridge, across the Schuylkill, that in the 1970s was run by Ernest "Smashy" DiStephani, a convicted crook.
Camden Iron has purchased state-of-the art shredders, now in storage, waiting for a new location.
Unlike the outdoor operation at Penrose Avenue, the advanced-technology shredders will be enclosed in a building and able to process the metal much faster, and with less noise.
"Being in a building takes care of a lot of the issues people are concerned about," Balzano said. "People think shredders are loud. They are not. They are actually very quiet."
Camden Iron has been actively looking for a place to move, and has considered locations including the old Publicker site north of the Walt Whitman Bridge in Philadelphia, and spots on the river in Camden and Paulsboro.
If the shredding leaves, Philadelphia would lose about 25 jobs. But Pennsylvania would gain about 200 jobs, mostly from New Jersey. The company would move its headquarters from Camden to Eddystone.
If Camden Iron - purchased in 2007 by European Metal Recycling Ltd. - closes on a property, the shredding operation could move within a year after obtaining permits.
Eventually, Camden Iron would want to sell the 26th and Penrose parcel, as well as land behind it on the Schuylkill that had been the Tidewater Grain Co. elevator. Camden Iron bought that property in 2006, but it turned out not to be big enough.
"There's a story within a story on the amount of money we have spent trying to relocate, over $12 million, not including the new shredder equipment," Balzano said.
"We looked at Pier 124, Pier 14, Tioga Terminal, the Freezer Warehouse in Camden. We've looked at places in Paulsboro, places north of Cottman Avenue near the prison, and a property in Repaupo, N.J. We looked at a piece of property a couple years back that looked perfect, but was contaminated," he said. "Every time we get close, we can't get it done."
The city has worked with Camden Iron since the 1990s to find a site, said senior deputy Commerce director Duane Bumb. "The governor, then-Mayor Rendell, has been working with them all along to try to facilitate the consolidation and job growth here."
Neighbors and community leaders have called the current site "problematic," Bumb said. If the scrap lot moves, the city would like to redevelop the area with new industrial uses, such as the Tasty Baking plant nearby on 26th Street, at the western end of the Navy Yard.
"It's that sort of development use that could come out and meet the street," he said.
Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, a trade group for businesses on the river, said wherever Camden Iron settles on the Delaware "is good news. Scrap steel has always been a significant cargo commodity, a good niche cargo for the Delaware River."
"Somebody's eyesore is someone else's pile of gold," Rochford said. "That material moves out of the port. It is supporting the port."