Liberty Property Trust, the powerhouse developer behind Philadelphia's Comcast Center, the Navy Yard rehabilitation, and other major projects, will on Thursday announce a deal to build a complex of offices, apartments, retail stores, and a hotel on a stretch of Camden's waterfront, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.
Gov. Christie will join Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, Liberty CEO William Hankowsky, and others in making the announcement at Camden's Adventure Aquarium, city officials confirmed.
The development will sit next to the aquarium, and between the ferry terminal building and the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Preliminary architectural renderings shared with The Inquirer depict a series of buildings, two with skyscraper-like towers that would offer views of the Philadelphia skyline. The project will include 1.5 million square feet of office space and more than 200 residential units, one individual said.
Several South Jersey business leaders have pledged to invest in the project, according to the individual, who is directly involved with the plans.
The business figures include Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III, head of the Cooper University Hospital board and a longtime friend of Hankowsky's. Norcross' insurance firm, Conner Strong & Buckelew, is considering moving its headquarters into the development, the source said. The firm is currently based in Marlton and Philadelphia, where its offices are in Hankowsky's Liberty Two building.
Other companies expected to join the project include the Archer & Greiner P.C. law firm, which has offices in Haddonfield and Philadelphia; the Cherry Hill supply-chain company NFI Industries; and the Michaels Organization, a Cherry Hill housing company that has done work in Camden.
All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity. The companies did not return calls for comment.
Norcross personally lobbied for Hankowsky's company to take on the development, said the individual involved with the project, and the other companies also have long-standing ties to Norcross.
Archer & Greiner, one of New Jersey's largest law firms, has done work for Cooper, and senior firm member Peter Driscoll was a longtime member of its board of trustees. NFI head Sidney R. Brown also sits on the Cooper board. Michaels' president, John O'Donnell, is another Norcross friend, and the company has partnered with Cooper on community programs.
Norcross is expected to announce his own investment of $50 million in the development, though his company and any others would likely apply for tax credits from the Economic Development Authority through the state's Grow New Jersey program.
The law was championed by Norcross' brother Donald, now a congressman and a former state senator, as a way to lure companies to impoverished cities. Since its passage in 2013, the EDA has approved more than $1 billion in tax credits for companies that agreed to move to Camden, including energy company Holtec International, Lockheed Martin, and Subaru of America.
The credits, spread over 10 years, are conditional on the companies' creating or saving a certain number of jobs in the city and remaining in Camden for at least 15 years.
The companies cannot access the incentives until they have relocated and, in some cases, built new facilities in Camden. Critics say such projects are so heavily subsidized that they will end up funneling little money to Camden's tax base, and that the program will mostly relocate high-paying jobs from elsewhere in the state.
Several people familiar with the waterfront project said Liberty acquired the rights to develop the land from the EDA, which had been negotiating with other builders for years over what to do with it.
As of 2009, Ohio developer Steiner & Associates, which owns the aquarium, had plans to open six restaurants, dozens of stores, a hotel, 1,500 residential units, a recorded-sound museum, and at least three office buildings on the site, but environmental remediation problems and other delays stymied the project.
Hankowsky's ties to Norcross go back to the mid-1970s, when Hankowsky was director of community development for the City of Camden, for which Norcross was working at the time.
In the 1980s, as chief operating officer at the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., Hankowsky was instrumental in drafting legislation in Pennsylvania that paved the way for the construction of the Convention Center. Later, he helped lead negotiations on building new stadiums for the Eagles and the Phillies. Hankowsky later become chief executive at Liberty Property Trust, where he helped spearhead construction of the Comcast Center, the city's tallest building.
Hankowsky and Norcross also both are former part-owners of a parent company of The Inquirer.