Old RCA building used by Camden schools to become offices, with a hint of its early days

A stained glass replica of “Nipper” at the Victor Lofts in Camden. The dog was the symbol of the old Victor Talking Machine Company, whose old headquarters across from the Victor Lofts was used as the Camden school district’s offices and now is being sold to a developer.

The Camden School District has sold its administration headquarters near the Delaware River waterfront for $5.2 million to a developer who plans to convert the former Radio Corp. of America building into commercial office space, officials said Thursday.

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said the agreement with Millennial Partners, a Camden-based developer, could close next week.

The eight-story building at Front and Cooper Streets is within blocks of the city’s prime real estate on the river. It has been used for more than a decade by the school district, housing at its peak hundreds of employees, though that number has dwindled. The district paid about $2 million for the property in 2006.

“It’s a no-brainer in terms of the cost-saving measure,” Rouhanifard said. “The building is too big for our needs.”

The building first served as executive offices of the Victor Talking Machine Co., later RCA Victor, which had its factories nearby. It sits across the street from another former RCA building that was transformed by Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff into Camden’s first luxury apartment building, the Victor Lofts.  The six-story (not including its Nipper tower) Victor Lofts structure is part of what little remains of the former 58-acre industrial complex.

According to its website, Millennial has over 400,000 square feet of office space in Camden overlooking the Philadelphia skyline, acres of land available to put up new buildings, and an inventory of available commercial and residential properties in the city. Its current projects include a commerce center, a gated loft development, and an office and retail space facility, all in Camden.

Citing the pending closing on the deal, Chris DiGeorge, managing partner for Millennial, would only say: “The development plan for the building is going to be extremely exciting and great for Camden.”

Camera icon Michael Bryant
Camden School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard 

According to Rouhanifard, entrepreneur Graham Alexander, who launched the Victor-themed musical venue and archive Vault at Victor Records in Berlin in 2011, is among tenants expected to lease space in the building from the new owner. Alexander bought the Victor brand several years ago and has a collection of memorabilia from the company’s heyday in Camden.

Rouhanifard, who was appointed in 2013 as part of a state takeover of Camden schools, has made selling the building a priority that would help improve the efficiency of the district’s central office. The district has closed about 10 schools as thousands of students have left the traditional public schools to attend charter and Renaissance schools across Camden.

Currently, about 6,500 students are enrolled in district schools, 4,900 in charter schools and 3,950 in Renaissance schools.

The district put the central office building up for sale in December 2016. The asking price was $6.7 million, but neither of the two bids met that price, a spokeswoman said.The other offer was “considerably less” than the proposal from Millennial, the spokeswoman said.

“We think we received a fair offer,” Rouhanifard said.

Rouhanifard said the district plans to renovate the old Washington School in Cramer Hill and convert it into the new central office. The school has been vacant since the district closed it in 2012. The superintendent could not provide an estimate on cost of the renovations but said it would  not be a major capital project.

About 148 employees currently are assigned to the central office, which is not at capacity. Early February 2018 has been set as the move-out date.

Like many Camden school buildings, the structure is outdated and in need of upgrades, including new windows; plumbing; heating and cooling systems, and electrical work. The district has spent on average about $381,000 annually on maintenance and upkeep, in addition to about $130,000 annually in utility payments.

The building opened in 1901 as the headquarters of Victor, creator of the Victrola and owned by Moorestown resident Eldridge B. Johnson. The company was sold to RCA in 1929, then morphed into a General Electric aerospace division in 1986.

If the deal closes, it would be the second major development in recent weeks in downtown Camden. Last week, the city and Rutgers-Camden announced a $15 million plan to demolish the shuttered Campbell’s Field baseball stadium and replace it with an athletic complex that would be used by the university and city teams.