American Water, lured by tax breaks, moving to Camden waterfront

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A rendering of American Water's planned move to the Camden waterfront.

American Water is moving to the Camden waterfront, the company announced Thursday, becoming the latest New Jersey corporation lured to the city by generous state tax subsidies.

Aided by the promise of $164 million in incentives, the Voorhees-based American Water Works Co. will build a new corporate headquarters between the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Adventure Aquarium, becoming the first piece of a massive complex planned by Liberty Property Trust, the Philadelphia-based developer that intends to build offices, shops, and homes there.

American Water representatives announced the move after a meeting of the Economic Development Authority in Trenton, during which the EDA approved the company's planned site.

"The waterfront location and the business community that is being created here offers great benefits to our employees and allows us to become a more significant part of a community where we are proud to provide water and wastewater services," company president and CEO Susan Story said in a statement.

American Water, the nation's largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility, joins a growing list of corporations that have announced plans to move to Camden using incentives awarded through the Grow New Jersey program.

The program rewards employers that invest in struggling cities as part of the 2013 Economic Opportunity Act. U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a South Jersey Democrat, championed the law as a state senator, saying the incentives would boost the city's struggling economy.

Critics say the program simply relocates existing jobs at a high cost to taxpayers.

Many of the corporations moving in, such as Subaru of America, Holtec, and Lockheed Martin, are expected to offer few jobs for Camden residents, and will be able to redeem tax credits worth millions of dollars in exchange for moving a few miles.

Several companies have ties to Norcross' brother George E. Norcross III, the powerful New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the board of trustees of Cooper Health System and Cooper University Hospital. In 2014, Cooper was awarded $40 million in incentives from the EDA to move about 350 office jobs from Cherry Hill and Mount Laurel.

Norcross also sits on the board of energy company Holtec International, which received $260 million in credits to move from Evesham. A local subsidiary of American Water has paid the lobbying firm of a third Norcross brother, lawyer Philip Norcross.

The tax credits are conditional on the companies' creating or saving a set number of jobs in the city and remaining in Camden for a number of years.

American Water's move will bring about 600 employees to Camden, create an additional 100 jobs, and give the company space to grow, according to the proposal submitted to the EDA.

When the EDA approved the credits for American Water in June 2015, company representative Denise Venuti Free said the company was deciding among several locations, including Philadelphia. The company had initially proposed relocating to Camden's Gateway district, near the Campbell Soup Co. headquarters.

Since applying for the tax incentives, American Water has also taken over the majority of Camden's water and sewer systems.

As the city's contract with United Water ended, American Water submitted a proposal that company representatives said would save the city money and improve water quality. City Council voted in December to adopt a $12.6 million annual contract with American, and the company took over this year.

Venuti Free has said the EDA application was unrelated to the company's proposal to run Camden's system.

John Gattuso, regional director and senior vice president for Liberty's metro region, said the American Water building would be designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, which is steering the waterfront project.

American Water hopes to break ground on the five-story, 222,376-square-foot building this fall, pending final site approvals, with construction to be finished in the second half of 2018.

"American Water's decision to relocate to the Camden waterfront is an important step forward in helping to realize this key development for the future of Camden," Gattuso said in a statement.

The 130-year-old American Water provides water and wastewater services to about 15 million people in more than 47 states, including New Jersey, and employs more than 6,700 people nationwide. The company listed revenues of $3.2 billion last year, according to its website.

asteele@phillynews.com

856-779-3876 @AESteele