In the second part of our series of What if's, we have a think about what if PPL park had been built in Camden NJ. Matt Repert started us off with his article on the stadium being built in the Sports complex next to Citizens Bank Park and the Linc, now it is Camden's turn to see what could have been.
We've all heard the jokes, and the fact about Camden always being one of the most dangerous cities in the US. However, I think that the city could have been a great site for PPL Park to be built, and here is why:-
Yes there are bad areas of Camden where you wouldn't want to build a stadium. However, the Camden Waterfront area is leading the way in refurbishing the city. You have the Susquehanna Bank Center, where major concerts are held. There is the Adventure Aquarium and also the Camden Riversharks stadium. Dranoff properties rebuilt the old Victrola factory into an apartment complex and there are plans to build more. Rutgers-Camden University is also in the area. That makes the riverfront a much more attractive location than you would think for Camden. It is also used to hosting 10-20,000 people for events. Around 2009, plans were announced to close the Riverfront State Prison in Camden. While that is after the site and approval for PPL park was given, if that had been canceled for whatever reason, then the area is perfect for another stadium
PPL park was built using a lot of tax subsidies with public money. However, there is no reason that the same kind of deals couldn't be made with the New Jersey State and Camden County councils to build a major league sports stadium in Camden. At the same time, other grants may have been awarded. The Delaware River Port Authority have spent a lot of money renovating the Camden riverfront (including money to both the former prison site and near by Pyne Poynt park as mentioned in this article).
That along with the same private sponsoring should have been more than enough to pay for the costs of making PPL Park at the old prison-site location (if not PPL energy, then rival energy company PSEG is a Camden provider).
While it will never get anywhere near the dream of Comcast sponsoring the Union that Matt's article went into - one Camden company that could sponsor the team would be Campbell's soup. Campbell's do a lot of fundraising on a healthy diet/active lifestyle background so they would love a major league team in the city to run that off of. They already sponsor the Camden Riversharks by sponsoring their stadium (Campbell's field). They also are ranked at #88 in the Forbes list of Innovative companies, and have a Sales value of $8.26Billion. They would certainly be a very good partner for the Union in terms of sponsorship. You also have to remember that the initial sponsorship would be replacing no sponsor. This makes anything you get from Campbell's extra money to bring in players. That and the increased local feel would have been good for the club.
One thing that the current PPL park struggles with is Public Transport. Currently, the only way to the stadium is by bus or regional rail, before having a shuttle bus to the stadium (or walking if you are brave enough). Public Transport is one thing that Camden has plenty of. You could get to the stadium from Trenton by using the NJ Transit Riverline, which would drop you off a few blocks from the stadium.
Even better is the PATCO high speed line - where you can get on close to the newly named Jefferson Station (Market East), or enjoy a few beers at Fado's pre-game and get on the train at 15th/16th and Locust. The trains run every 10-20 minutes, and you can be at Camden City Hall in around 10 minutes. From there it is a simple 5-10 minute walk down Market Street to the riverfront. Coming from Jersey, you could get the same PATCO line coming the other direction, park for free at Westmont or Collingswood, enjoy pre-game beers in the ample bars and get the train in.
Overall, Camden would be a fantastic location in terms of getting public transport to the stadium.
Parking and Traffic:-
Having to deal with concerts at the SBC, the Riversharks games and also the Aquarium there are ample parking lots available around the Riverfront. The cost of these for concerts is usually quite high, but I'm sure the Union would have been able to work out deals for games. Add in the fact that far more people will be able to take public transport and parking should be no problem.
However, when there are concerts and baseball games the traffic can be a bit problematic. That would be no different to where PPL park is now. Add in there would have to be scheduling around concerts and baseball games, it may become more of a problem for the fixture makers, and they take their time releasing the schedule as it is.
For those driving to the game, there is easy access to the Ben Franklin bridge to get back to Philadelphia and I-95, as well as I-676 to I-295 and I-76 being right beside the stadium. About 10 minutes drive there is the NJ Turnpike for those that need to go further north.
There would obviously be the normal tailgating ability in the parking areas. Unlike PPL Park there is also a far better opportunity to do your pre-game drinking in the bars of Centre City or Jersey. There is also the Victor's Pub which would be within walking distance and could be a Son of Ben official pre-game bar.
Local Links and Fundraising:-
One of the advantages about PPL Park being built in Chester is the fact that the Union and Sons of Ben can carry out charitable work in the immediate area. The goal is to revitalize Chester, and to do so by bringing jobs, visitors and eventually things like hotels, supermarkets and other businesses to the area. There is also places like the Bernadine center for feeding the homeless, and the renovation and creation of parks for children to play in. All of this has brought fantastic publicity for the Union.
The same can be done in Camden. The revitalization of the area has already started so there is a head start meaning that there is a better chance of the Union having a quick positive impact on the area. There are plenty of food banks for an area that is just as poor and in need as Chester. Keeping to the sport, Camden Youth Soccer club are run based on donations (and have been helped out by both the Philadelphia Union and Sons of Ben before now). There are certainly plenty of philanthropic opportunities in the area.
In terms of youth soccer, other than Camden Youth Soccer Club there are plenty youth teams in the area. Without a competing team, you can still draw from Pennsylvania and Delaware clubs. Rutgers Camden are quite a successful Div III NCAA team, and the all weather surface may have made a nice training facility if a deal could be worked out. There are certainly a lot of positives to draw from local Soccer links.
Camden as a city is ripe for a blooming future, and since 2010 when the Union started in MLS there have been many improvements to local parks, as well as the opening of the Salvation Army Kroc center in Camden, which is a very impressive facility.
Yes Camden is a dangerous city, and one where you wouldn't want to go into the wrong places. However, the riverfront has security from Rutgers Camden. There was a private security force at L-3 Communications. There would obviously be private security from the Union as well as a decent police presence.
Recently, the police force at Camden has undergone a major reshaping going to the Camden County police force. If this article shows a long term trend - that is also good news in terms of safety. Camden is finally becoming a safer place to live.
While the crime and traffic right now are potential drawbacks, I know that the biggest question mark against Camden is going to be "It's in Jersey". Union fans love to mock the Red Bulls because they are in NJ. However, I personally think that is meaningless. It is still closer to the city of Philadelphia than PPL Park currently is. It really would seem silly to me if Camden wasn't thought of just because it isn't in the same state as Philadelphia. That means that places as far away as Lancaster would be a more viable option than Camden.
Another drawback you may have thought of is that right now PPL park may be the most visually appealing stadium in MLS. It is a fantastic looking stadium, and you get the picturesque view of the Commodore Barry Bridge in the background. To that i submit these 3 photos :-
The views you could get from the proposed site in Camden would be far better than at PPL park right now, because you get the Philadelphia skyline in the background. It really makes the Camden waterfront have the best views in the area. You also still get the beautiful looking bridge with the Ben Franklin Bridge (adding to the appropriateness of the Sons of Ben even).
So there you have it. My reasoning for why having PPL Park in Camden may have been a fantastic idea. I didn't even have to mention how fantastic it would have been for me to be able to walk 5 minutes to the stadium when I lived at the Victor lofts apartment complex at the riverfront.
Continue to tell us what you feel about our proposed sites, and is there anywhere you think we have missed out?