CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) — The Campbell Soup Co. on Monday purchased a landmark building in the impoverished city of Camden as part of a plan to redevelop the neighborhood surrounding the corporate headquarters of the Fortune 500 company.
The world's largest soup maker bought a long-vacant former Sears store built in 1927. The move likely ends preservationists' five-year effort to save and repurpose the building, which was among the first department stores to be built with its own parking lot — a precursor to the shopping malls that popped up decades later.
Campbell paid about $3.5 million for the property, company spokesman Anthony Sanzio said.
Campbell coveted the land the building sits on as part of a plan to redevelop the neighborhood surrounding its headquarters. The company could soon demolish the landmark building.
Campbell has called Camden home since 1869, but had flirted with moving out of the city. In 2007, the company agreed to stay. Part of the deal was for the company to oversee development of the area around its campus — turning it into an office park in hopes that other businesses could be brought in.
But redevelopment during and after a deep recession has been slow going. Campbell has expanded its headquarters and roads have been reworked. But so far, no buildings have gone up for other businesses. Campbell says it's marketing the office park to real estate brokers, but doesn't have commitments from any tenants, yet.
The legal battle over the old Sears building was a major obstacle.
The building went up in 1927 when drivers could zip out of Philadelphia on the then-new Ben Franklin Bridge in their Model T's.
The building has now been a former Sears store for nearly as long as it was in business as a Sears.
The retailer moved out in 1971, the same year race riots gripped the city, to open instead in a mall in suburban Moorestown.
In the years since, the building has housed a nightclub, car dealership, day care center and housing authority office. But it's been empty and boarded up for the past several years.
Ilan Zaken, who also owns the hip-hop clothing company Miskeen Originals, bought the building in 2007 for $2.7 million. He's announced plans to reinvent it as a home for his clothing company, and as a culinary school and restaurant supply mall.
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