From Camden, U.S.A."s Poorest City: a blow Friday night to the Campbell Soup Co.'s plan, a $72 million expanded world HQ

The city historic preservation commission dealt a blow Friday night to the Campbell Soup Co.'s plans to build a $72 million expanded world headquarters and office park here.

Saturday, May 5, 2007
Courier-Post Staff

Rest of the story


Time for Campbell's to redesign its "office park" in the city??

Michael, It would be great if you could provide some details about the location -- maybe even a context map from Google. From the sound of it, the site in question is a landmark former Sears store in a very urban part of Camden. And from the sound of it, Campbell's has still-to-be-defined plans to create an "office park" with a more suburban character. To purue that plan, they'd need to demolish the landmark building and probably vacate existing streets.

Creating a business campus would theoretically allow Campbell's to insulate itself from Camden's poverty and blight. It's an understandable reaction for a company concerned with recruiting corporate talent and not taking too many risks. But it's a short-sighted urban design strategy with a limited upside. It sacrfices the urban form that is one of Camden's chief remaining assets. Campbell's has the most to gain by redesigning its proposal to embrace the urbanism of the site -- to reaffirm the existing pattern of streets and blocks and to fill in gaps in the urban fabric. If managed skillfully, this form of redevelopment would help stimulate a rebirth of the surrounding neighborhood. The nearby restaurants and shops catering first to Campbell's employees and secondly to others in the region would be a far better recruiting tool than a walled-off campus.

It's encouraging to see that Camden officials have a legitimate proposal on their hands from an apparently thriving retail company that wants to use the Sears building as its headquarters. Without that proposal, officials would find it hard to stand in the way of Campbell's still-fuzzy plans and would have little choice but to allow demolition of the building.

Of course, Campbell's is an important employer that deserves credit for its staying power in Camden. But there needs to be a forum where Campbell's officials start speaking with top urban designers and urban redevelopment officials so they can learn the urban strategies that are having real payoffs in other cities where the wind also went out of manufacturing-based economies, starting with Milwaukee. The good news is that talented designers and developers are already working in Camden on the Cooper's Crossing waterfront project, which is distinguished by a fine master plan by Torti Gallas and exceptional pattern book by Urban Design Associates. The project will receive a coveted CNU Charter Award at CNU XV in Philadelphia.

Here is the Google map link

Here is the Google map link to 1 Campbell Place, Camden, NJ, 08103,+NJ,+USA&sa=X&oi=map&ct=image

Campbells Hq is on the very eastern edge of downtown, surrounded and entagled in loops of
narrow on and off ramps to feeder roads, a very bleak pocket of residential blight behind its buildings on the westside of their complex. The existing HQ already looks like a suburban campus and very drab.

It is at the eastern end of Mickle Blvd., which runs from there one mile to Coopers Crossing which you mention. They basically are bookends to Camden's street with the greatest potential to be a TND Mainstreet, with a major rail transit stop half way in between. ( I just posted pictures of the western half, from Broadway to the waterfront on my website here:,_new...
When you see the picture of Walter rand Transportation Center, Campbells is about 5 blocks behind there.)

The area around Campbells is not what I would consider urban, only in that there are a lot of abandoned open spaces in the forms of vacant lots and unused parking lots next to abandoned buildings, like the Sears building. It is a difficult place to walk because there is no coherent street grid, cross walks, and and many fast moving cars.

The Sears building itself was never integrated into the city fabric. It has an overbearing, Baroque look and feel, with thick columns in front more suited to a courthouse. It has always stood in isolation facing a major highway, positioned to attract motorists / shoppers coming off the Ben Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia on NJ RT. 30. No one ever walked to this department store to shop. It was always designed to serve the motorist. It's environment has always been, even in it's heyday, light industrial and warehouses in a sea of parking lots. I don't know why it has a historic designation. It's ugly, completely lacking in charm.

The Camden city administration is not very proactive, has a difficult time with projects, and probably has no idea of how to engage New Urbanist designers and planners.
There is no one to approach at city hall right now. The city is politically in a state of suspended animation as it waits for Gov. Corzine to appoint a new COO and Recovery board to run the city. ( Camden is the only city run directly by the Governor.) However, I'm sure the state would be willing to listen to anyone who approaches and engages them. Right now would be a great time for NU Firms to engage in some salesmanship to Campbells and the city for a $78 million project. The city has no real authority, every little thing they do is subject to veto by the Goverrnor right now, which is a good thing.

I am working on a self-directed tour of the area that CNU XV members can take anytime during thier visit to the area, with transportation and guidance from PATCO and NJ Transit.

I went by Campbells HQ last week and left info with their Community Affairs officer about CNU, CNU XV and urged then to engage the Congress.

In a week or two, Gov. Corzine will be back to work, appoint the new COO for Camden and get the regeneration rolling again. I hope no one at CNU XV passes up a chance to visit this complex city, so challenging yet so rich in potential. Like you said, it still retains a classic city form. Like I like to say, "it has great bones."

(P.S) Since CNU XV is regional this year, encompassing two states in its programs, would the Congress extend a speakers invitation to Gov. Corzine? He may attend, but most likely by video-conference. New Jersey CNU members would love to know his plans for Camden and the region and may never have this opportunity again to hear a NJ governor speak at a Congress.

to see and learn more about Camden:

Camden: Sears Building History

Sears Building
When it comes to the evolution of mass merchandising over the last century, few stand as tall as Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Photo: Hoag Levins.
Built to resemble an acient Greek temple, the Sears building has been a local landmark for 74 years.


Begun in 1886 as a merchant of gold-plated watches to railway workers, the Chicago firm created by Richard Sears and Alvah C. Roebuck issued its first catalog in 1895. Offering everything from stoves and saddles to rocking chairs and petticoats, the company offered rural residents mail-order access to products they could not find at their local general stores.

In 1925 Sears began constructing its first retail outlets across the country. By 1927, 27 Sears department stores were open -- the most architecturally stunning of which was the Greek Revival building erected on the main road connecting Camden's new Delaware River bridge to a crescent of suburban developments sprouting east of the city.

That retail operation at what is now 1300 Admiral Wilson Boulevard helped define the very concept of "department store." It was a Sears & Roebuck until 1971, when the company moved its retail store to the Moorestown Mall, leaving behind a landmark of grand columns and ornately carved stone.

"Not only is the Sears & Roebuck building a temple of commerce featuring magnificent architecture," said Schopp, "it is also significant for Camden City and Camden County because it was built along the bridge boulevard, making it easily accessible by automobile. They were the first store in Camden to offer a 600-car parking lot. For the first time, a large retail operation was readily accessible by those who were moving to the suburbs. For that reason, the Sears store actually fostered the decline of downtown Camden."


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