A drug-treatment clinic that has operated in the heart of downtown Camden for more than a decade will be moving to another part of the city, officials said Tuesday. The corner, a parcel of prime real estate that sits directly across from City Hall and the surrounding park, will be the future home of the Rutgers University-Camden School of Business.
The Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden Board of Governors has signed a $1.55 million agreement of sale with the owner of the Urban Treatment Center, board CEO Kris Kolluri said. The board, which has been tasked with overseeing health sciences projects and recommending new programs in Camden, would take ownership of the land by the end of 2018, Kolluri said.
"The patients can't be abandoned; they need continuity of care," Kolluri said. "The opiate crisis is real, and the board believes it's in our absolute interest to make sure there is a successful relocation."
The Urban Treatment Center at Fifth and Market Streets has long been associated with methadone, one of the medication-based treatments it provides. The only such clinic in the city, the facility has been criticized by members of law enforcement, city officials, and residents, some of whom say it's an eyesore that attracts crime and has stood in the way of the downtown's revitalization. It sits on bus lines and is directly over a PATCO station, and during most daylight hours visitors to the clinic can be seen lingering on sidewalks and smoking cigarettes in the park across the street.
The owner of the entity, Camden Recovery Holdings, plans to relocate a little more than a mile away to a building at Sixth and Atlantic, in the city's Bergen Square section, a semi-industrial area where there are several other social service agencies, including Volunteers of America and Joseph's House, a homeless shelter. Ed Sheehan, the attorney representing the owner, said patients would benefit from that proximity.
"I think it's going to be a great benefit not only to the city and the patients, but it'll assist the joint board in its mission," he said. "I think there's a lot of pluses for everyone."
The clinic treats about 1,000 of patients per day, Kolluri said, two-thirds of whom come from somewhere in Camden County. About one-third of the total number of patients served by the clinic come from Camden itself, he said.
Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said that overdoses in Camden are up 55 percent since 2014, but that 60 percent of those overdose victims are from outside of Camden.
"Its relocation is important for the revitalization of the city, but we as government are still falling dangerously short on providing the services needed to address addiction," he said.
The joint board will vote on the sale at a meeting next month, Kolluri said. The proposed new location for the clinic has not yet been formally approved, but Sheehan said the owner purchased the property several years ago for the purpose of operating a rehab facility there. City spokesman Vincent Basara said the city would work with the joint board and owner on approving the new location.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said officials had for years been looking at ways to relocate the clinic.
"There was never a thought of just closing it down without a replacement," he said.
The Rutgers-Camden School of Business is currently located on the school's main campus. The new location would place it between there and a planned "health sciences" campus under construction on Broadway, near Cooper University Hospital.
The purchase of the downtown property will be financed by $1 million in state funding that was allocated to Rutgers last year, Kolluri said. The joint board will contribute the remainder, with the expectation that it would be recouped either by payment from Rutgers or through a long-term lease.
Though the corner could be considered one of the most commercially valuable in the city, Rutgers University is one of Camden's many tax-exempt institutions, and the taxes paid on the property will likely depend on how the ownership agreement is structured. Kolluri said the joint board would explore putting ground-level retail on the site, as well as possible office space on higher floors that would grow the city's tax base. Before the clinic, the corner was the site of a drugstore.
Council President Frank Moran, a lifelong Camden resident, said the clinic had been the source of complaints for years, particularly since 2014, when a park with benches, picnic tables, and planters was built across the street to encourage workers and residents to spend time there.
"We are compassionate about helping those who need it," Moran said. "But at the same time, we here in the city have for years been bearing the brunt of these services for many people who are not even from this city. And this is a continuation of how we are seeing the dynamics of downtown Camden change."