Campbell Soup Company, that reliable fixture of the American food industry, is known more for its chicken noodle soup and classic red and white labels than they are for urban redevelopment. But over the next several years, the company plans to take a more active role in improving the commercial viability of the Gateway neighborhood in Camden, N.J., home of their sprawling 40-acre headquarters.
Gateway is one of many struggling areas in this already blighted city, often dubbed the country’s most dangerous. With the help of Campbell’s, however, there is new hope that the neighborhood will soon be a safer and more viable place to do business. In 2007 the company was designated by the State of New Jersey as a sort of overseer of redevelopment in Gateway. Their goal is essentially to lure companies to Camden from the suburbs and nearby Philadelphia. To accomplish this, Campbell has announced an approximately $90 million plan for an ambitious 100-acre office park within the neighborhood. The plan calls for the acquisition of adjacent vacant land and blighted buildings for new construction as well as the renovation of older buildings the company already owns. Campbell expects to use some of the new office space, but hopes that other businesses will take the rest.
Will the new office park be enough to bring companies to Gateway? It should be. Gateway and Campbell have a great advantage in their proximity to the Port Authority Transit Corporation’s (PATCO) Walter Rand Transportation Center. New employees could easily reach the park from the suburbs or Philadelphia without a car. And New Jersey now provides a generous tax credit to companies with 250 or more employees that relocate to an office within half a mile of a rail station. This is some stiff competition, especially considering commercial rental rates in Camden are far below those in Philadelphia.
Campbell’s proposed office park is a sign of optimism in this climate of economic instability. But it’s a long-term project and it could be years before we see its full effect. In the mean time, Campbell must make sure that their vision for redevelopment does not ignore Gateway residents. If the soup company hopes to be a part of their surrounding community they must take into consideration the needs of its people.