Despite protests from prison employees and the union that represents them, which objected to the loss of jobs, the prison – which had drawn considerable criticism over the years as a colossal waste of the city’s riverfront potential – was finally torn down. [See: PLN, April 2009, p.1].
On hand for an event marking the beginning of the demolition was a group of New Jersey officials that included then-governor Jon Corzine, who used a hammer to ceremoniously knock out the first brick. Corzine, who had made a campaign promise to raze the facility, called the prison’s destruction “emblematic of what can happen in this great city in the years ahead.”
The Riverfront facility was built 24 years ago at a cost of $31 million, and was situated on 17 acres of the city’s prime riverfront real estate. It will now make way for new developments that Camden officials hope will improve the city’s tarnished image.
Having been dubbed an “eyesore,” Riverfront State Prison, with its gray walls, razor-wire-topped-fences and looming guard towers, sat directly across the Delaware River from an upscale area of Philadelphia. The view of the New Jersey prison from bars and new condominiums on the Philadelphia side of the river was an all-too-constant reminder of the crime-plagued reputation of Camden – a city commonly known as one of the nation’s most dangerous.
Community groups had lobbied against the facility’s construction before it was even built, but cash-strapped city officials agreed to host the prison in exchange for state funding and the jobs that came with it. However, in the years since, both community members and politicians alike have been highly critical of the Riverfront facility.
“It should have never been here in the first place,” lamented one of the speakers on hand for the demolition ceremony.
What will replace the prison is still unknown, but an ambitious neighborhood project has been proposed that calls for nearly $2 billion in investments over 20 years. The project would replace the torn-down prison and surrounding area with a park-lined riverfront and several thousand new homes – a fitting end for an unwanted prison facility.
Sources: www.courierpostonline.com, www.myfoxphilly.com
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