Grant will aid infrastructure, business corridor in Cramer Hill

By Phaedra Trethan, Cherry Hill Courier-Post, August 12, 2019

CAMDEN – The yellow jackets have descended on the neighborhood around Miguel Arriaga's pharmacy in Cramer Hill, and he's fine with that.

He's not talking about those wicked, winged scourges of summer; Arriaga, owner of Miguel's Pharmacy at 3213 River Avenue, means the yellow-clad workers with the Camden Special Services District, men and women who have kept the streets clean since 2012.

Originally meant to patrol the downtown district, the CSSD has been a blessing to Cramer Hill, said Arriaga on Monday.

"They do us businesses a favor," he said, cleaning sidewalks, sweeping the streets of debris, clearing sewer drains, even toting sharp boxes to gather discarded syringes that "can infect people with who-knows-what."

"Because of them, the business development area in Cramer Hill is looking better and cleaner, and for anyone who travels River Road, they see the improvements," he added, making the district more appealing not only for residents, but also for those who come into East Camden and Cramer Hill from Pennsauken.

Those improvements are getting a boost, thanks to a $981,484 Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit grant from American Water, fueling projects by Cooper's Ferry Partnership, St. Joseph's Carpenter Society and CSSD.

Dubbed 2019 Cramer Hill NOW! Revitalization project, the initiative is a continuation of last year's nearly identical grant, and an effort that began in 2009 to improve infrastructure, mitigate flooding and improve parks and open spaces in the area,.

The funds will go toward turning blighted structures into new housing and promoting businesses along the corridor, along with infrastructure improvements like new sidewalks and signage. The funding will also allow for the hiring of two full-time staff members for CSSD and for additional programming through Cooper's Ferry's Connect the Lots initiative.

ResinTech's huge packaging plant is being constructed on Federal Street and the nearby Harrison Avenue landfill continues its transformation from an eyesore to a public park and wildlife refuge.

Cheryl Norton, American Water's president, said though the company only recently moved into its new corporate headquarters on the Camden Waterfront, it's been part of the city for more than a century.

"We are a local company," Norton said, with operations in Cramer Hill since the 1890s, "so it's very important for us to give back."

The improvements, said Mayor Frank Moran, will spur further investment in Cramer Hill.

"But this is much more than funding brick and mortar," Moran added. "This is an investment in human capital; (the revitalization plan) has been very much a community-driven process."

The project signifies a "continuity of commitment," said Kris Kolluri, CEO of Cooper's Ferry. Though progress may seem slower in Camden's neighborhoods than it is along its downtown and Waterfront districts, the improvements are real, he said.

"We are OK with incremental progress, as long as that progress is meaningful."

For Arriaga, a Camden native whose parents still live in Cramer Hill, it's about making his business more appealing, and giving him a chance to expand it so it can become a hub for the neighborhood.

He's planning a large expansion over the next two years, hoping to increase the pharmacy's footprint from 3,000 to about 20,000 square feet. He wants to offer more than pharmaceutical goods and services, and open a cafe with free Wi-Fi, computers and printers, home-cooked Latin speciality foods and more.

He feels confident in investing, he said, because he sees the improvements in the community, from the cleaner streets to the feeling of safety, even fewer ATVs on the street since the Camden County Police cracked down on the vehicles in May.

"Camden is not what it used to be," he said.