Subaru of America plans to move its headquarters from Cherry Hill to Camden, the company said Friday, and set up operations at the site of the former Sears store.
The property on Admiral Wilson Boulevard is part of the 45-acre Gateway Office Park and sits near Campbell Soup Co.'s world headquarters. Campbell bought the 13-acre Sears site two years ago with an eye toward development.
To make the move, Subaru has requested $118 million in tax credits over the next 10 years from the state Economic Development Authority, which is to consider the application Tuesday among other proposed projects.
As with the $107 million in tax incentives awarded to defense contractor Lockheed Martin last month in exchange for the company's plan to relocate to Camden, the Subaru project is not expected to create new jobs in the city. Instead, Subaru plans to consolidate 500 employees from its Cherry Hill headquarters and Pennsauken operations center into a building the company will construct.
If the request is granted, Subaru will become the fourth major company to take advantage of the multimillion-dollar incentives available under the state Economic Opportunity Act.
In what was described as the largest tax incentive since the one given to the now-failed Revel casino in Atlantic City, energy company Holtec International last summer was awarded $260 million in tax credits. Earlier, the 76ers received $82 million in tax credits to build a practice facility on the Camden riverfront.
In return, each company is required to create or preserve at least 250 jobs in Camden and stay in the city for 15 years.
If all goes as planned, the Subaru move would be completed by late 2016 or early 2017, company spokesman Michael McHale said, adding that Subaru had scouted other locations in New Jersey as well as in Philadelphia.
"We have been a South Jersey company for many years," McHale said. "All things being equal, we're happy to stay in this area."
Bridget Palmer, a spokeswoman for Cherry Hill, said that the township was sorry to lose Subaru, but that the building would not be empty for long.
"Our local economy is very strong, and there's a lot of interest from companies looking to locate here," she said. "We're optimistic we'll be able to fill that site."
Campbell bought the long-vacant Sears building in 2012 for $3.5 million and demolished it.
Richard Landers, vice president of tax and real estate for Campbell, said having a second large corporate anchor would do wonders for the company's plan to create a thriving business district.
"We view Subaru as a great first step . . . to build out the park," he said.
Subaru paid $537,000 in taxes this year to Cherry Hill, Palmer said, making it the 19th-highest taxpayer in the township.
In Camden, the company will likely pay much less under a 10-year abatement available to companies under the economic development law. Camden officials did not comment on how much the company might be expected to pay in property or school taxes for the site.
Jon Whiten, deputy director of the liberal-leaning watchdog group New Jersey Policy Perspective, has said the tax incentives awarded to major corporations coming to Camden were too generous and could lead to higher tax burdens for state residents.
The deals are calculated using a 35-year economic projection, yet require the companies to stay for just 15 years, he said, and if even one or two of the companies chose to move out of Camden after the 15 years of tax benefits expired, taxpayers could be stuck making up losses of $100 million or more.
"Camden says they're getting this much-needed development, and there's no question that, imagewise, it's not a bad thing," he said. "But by opening the door to this risk down the road, they almost set themselves up for there to be a state of continued failure in Camden if these companies don't succeed in turning the city around."
Whiten said the companies were asked to do little in terms of addressing the city's pervasive poverty and unemployment.
"You look at how much need there is in this city," he said. "Camden needs a very integrated solution, and that is not what this is."
City and Camden County officials have lauded the projects as essential steps in the city's path to revitalization, saying the companies would transform the riverfront and downtown Camden into a modern city that would attract new residents and businesses.