The Camden Riversharks prepare for Opening Day
CAMDEN - It's the bottom of the ninth for Campbell's Field. The bases are empty, the home team is behind and, pretty soon, the game may be over.
The 6,700-seat ballpark on the Camden Waterfront, opened in 2001 for a now-defunct minor-league baseball team, will be demolished soon, according to George E. Norcross III, a power hitter in South Jersey business and politics.
"Unfortunately, the state, in its lack of wisdom, built a baseball stadium for an unaffiliated, independent league (team) that folded and $35 million disappeared," he said at a business breakfast Tuesday, referring to the now-defunct Camden Riversharks that once played at Campbell's Field.
"You're going to see, in the not-too-distant future, that stadium demolished and in its place will be world-class athletic fields for Rutgers University in Camden and the public schools system and the renaissance schools in Camden, so they will have world-class athletic facilities to utilize," Norcross added.
The Camden County Improvement Authority took over ownership of the ballpark. In October 2015, the team and CCIA failed to reach a lease agreement, and the Riversharks folded shortly afterward.
Rutgers–Camden's baseball team, the Division III Scarlet Raptors, plays its home games at Campbell's Field.
A Rutgers spokesman declined to comment directly on Norcross' statement that the ballpark would be razed soon.
"Rutgers is proud to be a partner in the Camden Rising movement," spokesman Mike Sepanic said. "The proposal to transform Campbell’s Field into an athletic complex that serves our city, as well as Rutgers-Camden’s students, is exciting and has the potential to further energize our neighborhood and to promote active lifestyles."
Asked about Norcross' remarks, Camden County spokesman Dan Keashen said the CCIA "is still involved with confidential and deliberative negotiations with a prospective buyer in regard to the Waterfront Stadium."
"Based on these negotiations, we cannot comment on the future of the facility in order to preserve our current negotiating position. That said, it is still in operation and being maintained by the authority as a baseball stadium and a host site for regional events."
A billion-dollar development along the waterfront next to Campbell's Field will increase the value of the site, Keashen added.
"We believe the value, size of the property and its proximity to other downtown amenities was important for the authority to preserve and maintain, and not allow to become shuttered by the note holder, Santander Bank, so we could ensure a community-minded vision for the site and the downtown,” Keashen said.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey's "We Chose Camden" event, Norcross was joined by Campbell Soup Co. CEO Denise Morrison and Holtec founder and CEO Krishna Singh at a discussion moderated by Cooper Foundation CEO Susan Bass Levin. The trio spoke on a range of topics, from the industrial and business transformations taking place in the city to corporate responsibility for Camden's citizens.
As Bass Levin asked the panel about their vision for the future, Norcross imagined a Camden "where every section of the city would be redeveloped."
Current city homeowners, Norcross said, will sell their homes as property values rise, building their own wealth and moving to the suburbs.
"I think you're going to see a complete redevelopment of the city of Camden," he continued. "The historic areas of Camden, around Cooper (University Hospital) and Rutgers will remain, but I think you'll see largely the rest of the city will be redeveloped and new housing built.
"I think Camden in 10 or 15 years will almost virtually be a brand-new city, newly constructed almost in its entirety, whether it's industrial, residential or commercial."
He added that it was the responsibility of business and industry leaders to provide not only jobs for Camden residents, but also training, apprenticeships and mentors to prepare for those jobs.
Morrison called Camden's transformation a microcosm of many of the challenges facing modern businesses: shifting demographics, the impact of globalization, the rise of a middle class in developing nations while it contracts in the U.S., more attention to sustainability, and digital disruptions.
Asked why Campbell Soup had chosen to stay in Camden, its home since it began as a small cannery in 1860, Morrison had a simple answer: "If we had left Camden, it would have taken away our soul."
Phaedra Trethan: (856) 486-2417; firstname.lastname@example.org