Campbell Soup drops controversial plan

February 27, 2008 10:07:30 AM PST
The Campbell Soup Co. has dropped its plans - for now - to raze the former Sears building near its headquarters as part of a plan to build an office park in the area.

The company announced on Wednesday the latest version of its plan to redevelop the area near downtown Camden.

Its previous plan was thrown out by a judge last year because of a conflict of interest on the city's planning board.

The plan would keep Campbell in the city where it was founded in 1869. Company spokesman Anthony Sanzio said Wednesday that Campbell's considered expanding its own headquarters but not developing an office park and looked into a move to an undisclosed site in central New Jersey - even going as far as having site development plans drawn up.

But in the end, Sanzio said, the city could not abandon Camden. "We were doing right by our hometown," he said.

The office park is one of a handful of plans for major private development in the impoverished city in the last few years that has been put on hold for various reasons.

Much of the opposition to the idea of Campbell's redeveloping an area of vacant lots and abandoned buildings just east of downtown came because the company wanted to knock down an 80-year-old building that Sears stopped using in 1971.

Last year, Ilan Zaken, an owner of the clothing retailer Dr. Denim and the hip-hop-oriented T-shirt maker Miskeen Originals, bought the building with plans to restore it. Zaken said he could renovate it for $1 million.

Campbell's officials, who are skeptical of Zaken's plans, say making the building usable would take at least $6 million in work.

"Should the Sears Building not be restored, Campbell will still be here," Sanzio said. And the company might still buy the property in the future if it has the chance. Sanzio also said the company's preferred redevelopment plan remains the original one; that plan calls for razing the Sears building.

Sanzio said the company does not have a timeline to determine whether it might try to buy the property.

"It's all up to Mr. Zaken," Sanzio said.

Zaken did not immediately return a call on Wednesday.

Campbell's new plan still calls for the company to expand its own headquarters at a cost of about $72 million and for state and local government agencies to pay more than $23 million for road improvements in the area.

But the adjacent office park it plans to build has been scaled back.

Campbell plans to work with a developer to create the office park; it does not plan on owning the non-Campbell buildings on the site once they are built.

The company's plan requires several approvals before it can move ahead.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-02-27-08 1303EST