Camden County, N.J., officials plan new courthouse, hotel

Apr. 11--Camden County officials announced plans yesterday to build a new courthouse in downtown Camden, and waterfront developers said they would seek approval to construct the city's first hotel in more than 20 years.

Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said he hoped a manager for the courthouse project could be hired within three months.

The courthouse, he said, would be built on a Fifth Street parking lot adjacent to the current courthouse, which would be upgraded.

"The existing court facility is 25 years old," Cappelli said. "The court has outgrown the building."

The state's Superior Court judges in Camden and the state Administrative Office of the Courts, which manages the courts, have urged the county for years to build a new courthouse, Cappelli said.

The current building does not meet modern standards for technology and handicap accessibility, he said.

Civil and criminal proceedings would be divided between the buildings, which would be connected, Cappelli said. He also said other government offices, such as the prosecutor's office, could be moved there.

The prosecutor's office is in a county-owned building on Fifth Street, and "we'd rather see that building be a ratable," Cappelli said.

There's no estimated cost yet for the new building, which Cappelli said would be paid for through a bond issue.

The proposed hotel, a $28 million Hilton Garden Inn on the Waterfront, would be Camden's first since the Plaza closed in 1985.

City officials pursued a deal for a downtown Marriott several years ago, but the developer backed out in a particularly bad year for crime, when Camden was named the "most dangerous" city in the nation and a downtown rapist was on the prowl.

The five-story, 140-room Hilton would be developed by PRA Development of Philadelphia along the Delaware River just north of the new Ferry Terminal office building.

PRA will seek the necessary approval from the city planning board at its May meeting, said Tom Corcoran, president of the nonprofit Cooper's Ferry Development Corp., which manages waterfront development.

Eighty percent of the financing for the hotel would be private; the developer would seek the rest in low-interest loans from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Corcoran said.

"In the past we've had hotel developers come in and ask us to build them a hotel and they'd run it," he said. "This is a very aggressive private-finance proposal."

If all goes well, construction could begin next year and be completed by early summer 2010, Corcoran said.

Also yesterday, the county issued a request for proposals to develop five acres of the former Pennsauken Mart site.

Plans for the 31-acre site, dubbed the Renaissance Walk Redevelopment Project, call for more than 600 apartments, a community center, and a recreation area.

The five-acre portion would be divided into two parcels for commercial development, officials said.

The Pennsauken Mart, a popular flea market, was evicted in 2006 after more than 50 years at the junction of Routes 73, 90 and 130.

In 2005, the county scrapped plans to build a convention center and minor-league hockey arena there. A year later, a developer backed out of plans to build houses there when the housing market softened.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.