Nearly three years ago, the state prison on North Camden's waterfront was demolished to make room for development that local officials said would improve the neighborhood and boost the city's coffers.
But the land remains vacant, generating no revenue for the impoverished city.
A bill sponsored by State Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden) and Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D., Camden) asking to sell the 16-acre prison property to the state Economic Development Authority for $1 is slowly making its way through the Legislature.
On Monday, the bill, introduced in June, was reported favorably out of the Assembly Government Committee. In August, the bill had been referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
If the development authority gains control of the land, it will likely sell the property "by auction to a qualified developer who will work closely with local residents to make the best possible use of this site," Norcross said in a statement.
Norcross and his fellow Camden legislator found out only recently that legislation needed to be passed to transfer the land for redevelopment.
The State House Commission, which controls the sale and leasing of state-owned properties, came up with the prison disposition procedures in 2009 and asked that the property be sold by the development authority through a public bidding process. The commission also would have to grant final approval of the winning bidder.
City officials have been seeking ideas from North Camden residents about how to use the site. A mixture of housing and retail seems to be the popular choice, said Ron Sadler, president of Save Our Waterfront, a North Camden neighborhood group.
According to the current zoning ordinance, which City Council approved last year, the former prison site would allow for a marina, sidewalk cafes, residential and commercial properties, and even sports arenas. Warehouses and auto-body shops would not be allowed. Any other use would require a zoning ordinance change.
"The intention is that the City of Camden, going through its formal process, will create redevelopment zoning that the proposals will adhere to," Dave Nuse, real estate director for the state Economic Development Authority, said at a 2009 State House Commission meeting. "It probably maximizes the price if the zoning is locked in prior to the sale process going forward."
However, one of the State House Commission members, Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R., Bergen), who was against the demolition of the prison, said he didn't foresee development anytime soon.
"There's plenty of room for redevelopment of the waterfront," Cardinale said Wednesday. "My understanding is that there is no demand . . . in that location."
Cardinale cited undeveloped land near Adventure Aquarium that has been empty for many years.
But Sadler said North Camden residents were demanding that something be built in the prison space. Redevelopment takes time, he added, because of the many local ordinances involved and planning and zoning steps.
"Let's just hope we are on the right path this time," he said.