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Work starts on Hilton Garden Inn at growing Camden waterfront business complex

The eight-story, 180-guest-room hotel is scheduled to begin operations by the end of next year.

Artist's rendering of Hilton Garden Inn planned at Camden's Delaware River waterfront.
Artist's rendering of Hilton Garden Inn planned at Camden's Delaware River waterfront.Read moreCope Linder Architects

What city officials say is Camden’s first hotel project in more than a half-century is underway, as Phoenix-based developer Ensemble Investments LLC has broken ground for a Hilton Garden Inn on the Delaware River waterfront.

The eight-story, 180-guest-room hotel at 1 Penn St., just north of the American Water Works Co.'s newly opened headquarters building, is scheduled to begin operations by the end of next year, Camden officials said in a news release after a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday.

“I believe this is just the first of several hotels to be built here and another foundational asset that underscores the fact that the city is flourishing and will continue to grow,” Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said in a statement.

The hotel is being built for $50.4 million, according to New Jersey Economic Development Authority records maintained in connection with an $18.4 million state subsidy approved for the project.

The price includes $4 million to purchase the project site from Wayne-based developer Liberty Property Trust, which had been the waterfront area’s master developer before deciding last year to shift its focus entirely to industrial buildings.

The $1 billion waterfront development is now being led by insurance firm Conner Strong & Buckelew, homebuilder the Michaels Organization, and logistics company NFI Industries, according to Tuesday’s release.

The Hilton project was originally proposed for a site set back from the waterfront at Cooper Street and Riverside Drive, but those plans were changed in 2017 to keep other development from blocking guest-room views, according to the EDA records.

Before the location change, the project was primarily owned by an investment group involving Conner Strong, which is led by politically influential businessman George Norcross; Michaels, and NFI. The three are also the owners and future occupants of the 18-story Camden Partners Tower nearing completion nearby.

Following the change, the hotel project’s ownership was transferred to a group led by Southern California-based investor Frank Zarabi and Kam Babaoff, Ensemble’s managing partner, according to the EDA.

Ensemble’s other projects include the Courtyard by Marriott hotel at the Navy Yard business and industrial park in South Philadelphia, where the company also has plans to repurpose an aged barracks building into a boutique inn.

In addition, Ensemble has proposed a 22-story apartment tower on a blighted Delaware River waterfront property just south of the Residences at Dockside condominium building, near Fitzwater Street.

“We are so proud to play a role in bringing Camden its first hotel in more than 50 years,” Babaoff said in Tuesday’s release. “We firmly believe that offering quality lodging and warm hospitality helps further strengthen the soul of a community."