Residents of Camden's Waterfront South, who for years have been assaulted by the smell of raw sewage that seeps through the ground from the neighborhood's poor sewer infrastructure, can look forward to having a quiet spot on the Delaware River to enjoy a refreshing breeze and spectacular view of the Philadelphia skyline.
In a continuation of the city's Earth Week activities, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority broke ground Tuesday on what will be known as Phoenix Park at the five-acre site of a former mineral-processing facility.
The authority paid $1.1 million last year to purchase and demolish the old American Minerals Inc. plant, which had been vacant for at least a decade, said Andy Kricun, the agency's executive director. The parcel, which is adjacent to the authority's sewage-treatment plant and a couple blocks from the South Jersey Port Corp., will feature a meadow, a scenic overlook on the water, and a kayak launch, according to a preliminary sketch shown at the groundbreaking.
"The idea is to create a corridor to connect the [new] park" and Liney Ditch Park, a small community open space a block away, Kricun said.
The county awarded the agency an $800,000 open-space grant to help create Phoenix Park. The money comes from the open-space tax paid by all county residents, which previously has gone to develop Timber Creek Park in Lindenwold and Gloucester Township and to preserve farmland in Winslow, said Jack Sworaski, director of county Division of Environmental Affairs.
The authority has teamed with Cooper's Ferry Partnership to maintain the completed park, Kricun said.
Residents' view of the Delaware River has been mostly blocked by industrial buildings. Msgr. Michael J. Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart parish and a neighborhood activist who has advocated for decades for open space overlooking the river, called Phoenix Park a miracle.
"When I first came to this city, I was upset that the residents could not visit the mother of their city — the Delaware River," the Waterfront South resident said at Tuesday's ceremony.
In recent years, said the Roman Catholic priest, the neighborhood nonprofit group Heart of Camden, led by executive director Helene Pierson, discovered that the American Minerals site was available to purchase and teamed with the utilities authority to apply for the county grant. The authority is working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove concrete and contaminated soil at the site.
"It will be a getaway for our residents," Doyle said.
Phoenix Park was named after the 1,750-acre park of the same name in Dublin, a tribute to the Irish-born Doyle and his dreams for Camden and its residents, Kricun said. Several years ago, a fishing pier on waterfront land donated by the authority also was named in Doyle's honor.
On Wednesday, the Cramer Hill Community Development Corp. and New Jersey American Water will break ground on another earth-friendly project in the city. It is all part of the Camden Earth Week, which Mayor Dana L. Redd kicked off Thursday with the planting of a rain garden behind the Ferry Avenue branch library.
Construction of 10 two-story homes, each with three bedrooms, will begin on 24th Street, near Harrison Avenue, within walking distance of the future Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Cramer Hill. The houses are expected to be completed by the end of the year and will be sold for $155,000 each, according to Manny Delgado, executive director of the Cramer Hill Community Development Corp., the project's developer.
The $2.6 million project was been made possible through a Neighborhood Tax Revitalization Credit grant of $750,000, which was initially donated by New Jersey American Water, and through funding from PNC bank, RTC Properties Inc., and Campbell Soup Co., Delgado has said.
Designed by Interface Studio Architects in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Cramer Hill CDC, New Jersey American Water, and the EPA, the homes will feature environmentally friendly plumbing fixtures that use at least 20 percent less water and perform at least as well as standard models. A family of four, EPA officials have said, could save 50,000 gallons of water a year.