The biggest day of the year for Camden development

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Here’s five things you should know about the Cooper’s Ferry Annual Meeting

Every spring, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership holds its Annual Meeting, a $125-a-ticket event where developers, construction companies, city officials, politicians, as well as architects, lawyers, and a few community leaders mingle in front of the shark tanks at the Camden Aquarium. Cooper’s Ferry is a non-profit development company that works in very close partnership with Camden city government to attract business investment to the city as well as effect change in education and public safety. As someone who has been to these events before, I know that important conversations about the future of Camden will be had, and that most Camden residents won’t be there. Here’s five things to expect on February 24th.

1.     The Mayor will give her annual State of the City Address. Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd rarely speaks directly to the Camden public, and this is no exception. This event is the first place Mayor Redd gives her State of the City address each year. I expect her to talk about how her administration has decreased crime, increased jobs, demolished abandoned buildings, secured federal funding, and created more school choices. She’ll ask her cabinet to stand, and every elected official in the room will be recognized. If there are any disagreements between her, the Governor, or County officials, no hint of conflict will be visible on this day. This is her speech from 2012.

2.     Corporations in Camden will be celebrated Besides Mayor Redd, Wednesday’s other featured speaker is John Gattuso, SVP of Liberty Property Trust. His company wasjust approved for a $1 billion waterfront development contract by the Camden Planning Board, for residential, office and retail on the Camden waterfront. There are over $2.2 billion in new development projects currently planned for Camden, and construction is already underway for the Rutgers nursing School, a new headquarters for both the 76ers, and Holtec International. Companies like these will be celebrated for bringing new jobs and opportunity to the city. As recipients of subsidies under the Economic Opportunity Act, companies like these are set to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax subsidies.

 3. Community Benefits Agreements may or may not be mentioned

I’ll be looking out for any announcement about Community Benefit Agreements from corporations. A coalition including CCOP has been advocating that some portion of the money from these tax breaks go to things like youth development and job training programs for Camden residents. Read Raymond Lamboy’s Commentary on Community Benefit Agreements here. Right now, there are two very different stories being told about the development in the city. One story is being told by politicians and businesses. These are stories about cooperation, growth of jobs, and progress. The other story being told by community leaders and activists is about gentrification, displacement, andexaggerated claims of success. No matter what angle people have, the reality will remain, there is a mix of new and old, good and bad, opened and closed, & change and consistency. A few weeks ago, there was a story about a new restaurant row.

 4. There will be a beautiful sunset. This can’t be understated. A few years ago, after giving the audience her cell phone number, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno asked for the sliding blinds to be opened so that the audience could witness the sun set behind the 50 story steel structures in Philadelphia. In a setting where so much is artificial, it will be warming to witness the western glow.

 5.  What won’t be said. Although it is known for its violence and poverty, there is much more to the story of Camden. There are so many critical issues that are tattooed to the heart of the city. Immigration, drug addiction, homelessness, inadequate affordable housing in the city and the suburbs, and inadequate public transportation are among the most important issues for Camden’s residents, but they may only get a short sentence in the mayor’s address. She can’t afford to scare the money away. It will be intriguing to see if these obvious issues are whitewashed or exposed as the undeniable challenges they are.