Half of downtown Camden’s last remaining retail block will be razed, and a three-month-old restaurant owned by a homegrown entrepreneur also will be demolished, if the latest redevelopment scheme for the city becomes a reality.
As my Inquirer colleague Jonathan Lai reported Monday, the land bounded by Broadway, Martin Luther King Blvd., Stevens St. and Fifth St. is envisioned as the site of a $50 million Joint Health Sciences Center -- a classroom, laboratory and office complex that would help connect the downtown campuses of Rutgers-Camden and the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University .
The current retail occupants of the south side of the 200 block of Broadway, including Rainbow, Villa, and the Broadway Food Court, would disappear. So would properties on the 500 block of King Blvd., where Ray Davis opened his Newtown Kitchen and Lounge three months ago.
“This particular block has been talked about as a location for a health-related facility for a long time,” said Kris Kolluri, CEO, Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors, which already is acquiring properties in the area.
“This is not a knee-jerk [proposal] to just put it wherever," Kolluri said. "It’s actually a plan that is logical, thought out, and fits in with the organic evolution of an eds and meds corridor.”
A lively, stylish establishment -- I enjoyed their terrific pulled pork sandwich -- Newtown has "improving Camden one dish at a time" as its slogan.
"We're trying to be part of what's building up the city," Davis, the owner, says.
On the 200 block of Broadway, Kye Johnson has managed the Change Up clothing store for six months. She was unaware of the development proposal until I asked her to comment on it Tuesday.
“I don’t think it’s right,” the Sicklerville resident, 20, said. “What will happen? Everybody gets shut down? Camden barely has any businesses.”
Johnson is right: Outside of the 200 block, hardly any retail establishments remain in downtown Camden, a former regional shopping hub now filled -- after decades of grandiose plans for unrealized projects -- with vacant ground, parking lots, and institutions (many of which are off the tax rolls) of all kinds.
Near Third and Market, however, several clusters of vintage buildings have somehow survived. A bit of a dining district seems to be taking root. Perhaps a new home for Newtown could be found there.