Stores, offices, and restaurants may soon appear on a mostly vacant block in downtown Camden, resurrecting a retail corridor that vanished years ago.
The Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors has approached city and county officials about buying a series of parcels on South Broadway with the goal of attracting lunchtime spots and other services for residents and the neighborhood's daytime workers. The site between Berkley and Clinton Streets sits across from the KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy and is several blocks from Cooper University Hospital and the area where Rutgers is building a "health sciences" campus that includes a Joint Health Sciences Center and related buildings.
"The Renaissance of Broadway is an idea that we think will take shape as, block by block, buildings get renovated and new buildings get built," said Kris Kolluri, CEO of the board.
The joint board, which was tasked with overseeing health sciences projects in Camden and recommending new programs, would buy the land from the Camden Redevelopment Agency, which owns most of the seven parcels on the block. The CRA has appointed the Camden County Improvement Authority to develop the land. Once built, Kolluri said, the board would lease the space to any businesses interested in moving in.
It's not the Rutgers board's first foray into redeveloping city land. Since its creation in 2013, the joint board has purchased or acquired most of the properties from Broadway west to Fifth Street and from Martin Luther King Boulevard south to Stevens Street, including empty lots, abandoned buildings, and a small strip of restaurants and storefronts that relocated elsewhere in Camden.
The state has approved $50 million in funding to build a planned four-story, 65,000-square-foot health sciences center there, where Rutgers-Camden will move its computational biology program. Rowan plans to house its doctorate of occupational therapy program there, as well.
Kolluri said that in addition to focusing on the blossoming "Eds and Meds" corridor in Camden, the board sees part of its responsibility as fostering economic development in the city.
"The goal is now to say, What is the right thing to do that fits into a broader problem?" Kolluri said. "This fits into that mission."
The land will be priced at market value, said Kolluri, who hoped the sale will take place as soon as this spring. As well as ground-level retail, upper floors could be used for office space, he said.
Louis Cappelli Jr., director of the Camden County Board of Freeholders, said his grandparents once lived at the corner of Broadway and Clinton. He remembers a lively neighborhood where they shopped at local shops and greeted friends.
"We need to get Broadway back to that," he said.