Giving Camden Away

Camden City Hall

Camden City Hall

It’s official; the Philadelphia 76er’s are coming to Camden, to practice.  And as much as I’m a Sixers fan, I can’t say that I’m happy about that development.  Let me rephrase that. Let’s say that I’d be happier if I didn’t think that the city gave away a lot more than they could stand to.

I first learned of the team’s pending arrival from a news story a couple of weeks ago.  There were two that caught my eye that day; each one speaking to the direction that Camden, hopefully, was headed.  The first involved a newly appointed CEO for the Rowan-Rutgers board and the other concerned the much anticipated training facility scheduled to be built on the Camden waterfront.

Both stories address the manner in which the city has chosen to grow for the future but unfortunately they both give a glimpse into the possible hardships that some residents may wind up facing during this upcoming community improvement endeavor.  And being a resident of Camden, it’s no surprise to me that these proposed changes, improvements or additions to the community, all originate in an area that’s an historic development darling for many of the city’s leaders; i.e. the Camden waterfront.

The first involves the primary mechanism to be used to turn fortunes around; a partnership with the university’s Rutgers’s and Rowan.  For more than a few years now, Camden city government has thrown its hat into the ring alongside those of both schools in efforts to redevelop the downtown corridor, aka Lanning Square.  The recently built Cooper University Medical School is the latest example of those labors.   The problem arises from two words utilized (or over-utilized, depending on who you ask) in describing the hopes and plans of the new board; imminent domain.

Depending on the manner it’s used, imminent domain allows those in city government to take what they want (at fair market value), regardless of ownership and as long as certain stipulations concerning blight and the necessity of development are addressed.  Owners of property will be paid for their loss, only it might not be the price that they’re looking for.  The process is no stranger to more than a few Camden residents and the current bill was signed into law quietly at the beginning of the year by Governor Christie.

The Sixers arrive in Camden via a deal that includes $82 million in tax incentives.  Purportedly, there will be 250 jobs available but residents have since learned that 200 of those jobs are already filled by in-house Sixers personnel.  So where then is the benefit for those in the city who truly need it?

Honestly, there is none, at least not right now and not in the foreseeable future either.  Of the 50 jobs to be announced, they‘ll mostly be degreed positions in sales and/or marketing and wouldn’t be suitable for a majority of the Camden city residents, whose average education grade level is at high school or below.

In an editorial on (N.J. $82M incentive to bring 76er’s practice facility to Camden is purely for show) there’s the suggestion that even if the Sixers come to Camden, they won’t stay in Camden, which would be par for the course for things built on the waterfront at the behest of Camden city government.  Anybody remember the Riverfront Prison?

The editorial goes on to state that companies are not being required by the state or the cities to provide an adequate number of jobs for residents and that payouts, in the form of tax breaks have gotten out of hand.  Consider that a “duh” moment for the legislators in the state.

If there are no jobs for Camden residents then all the redevelopment will be for naught.   Camden will only turn itself around when taking care of the residents is given a priority.  No business should be allowed to set up shop in the city without bringing a visible and concrete benefit to those who live and pay their taxes in the city in the form of employment, job training, or both.

These Reaganomics trickle-down policies of community development do nothing to give the residents any relief.  Besides which, they don’t assist new businesses in establishing a foothold in the city or lend them a hand in their attempts to succeed and thrive.  The current way of doing business brings nothing to the table for those that need something from the table nor do they truly bring anything to the city, in the long run.

In the case of the Sixers training facility, let’s say that people come to watch the practices.  What do they do after they’ve done so?  Are there eateries on the waterfront available for them to replenish before making the trek back across the Ben Franklin?  How will they pass their time?  Without an adequate infrastructure to support visitors, Camden is only spinning her proverbial wheels.

What needs to happen first is that avenues must be made available that give those living in the city a chance to acquire a job.  This puts them on their road to getting on their feet, getting straight (if required) and accumulating wealth, however meager it might be.

It should be mandated for every business coming into the city that a specified concrete number of positions will be made available for Camden residents ONLY.  And if those positions require specialized training or certification, that will be afforded to any interested parties.  If businesses are willing to pay to come to Camden then let’s make certain that some of that money directly benefits city dwellers.

In the long run, people then can hopefully become a viable component of that city’s infrastructure; one that hopefully draws future visitors.

People before property; it’s the only way to move forward.



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Filed under jobs & joblessness, Politics and Government

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