RCA Building Undergoes $60M Rehab

Tue April 15, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Chris Volker

It’s always great to see developers convert a historic landmark into a viable structure that, in turn, preserves its legacy. That’s the case with The RCA Victor Company, a pioneer in broadcasting and communications, which is poised for another milestone in its history. Dranoff Properties will renovate the former “Nipper” Building, an icon on the waterfront since 1919 and the birthplace of recorded sound, into 341 waterfront luxury loft apartments. In honor of its illustrious RCA Victor history, the building has been renamed “The Victor” by Dranoff Properties.

The massive $60-million rehabilitation project represents the largest private housing investment in Camden in more than 40 years. The completed project will include ground floor retail and parking and will begin leasing in May 2003 with the first residents due to move in by the fall of 2003.

The developer of The Victor is Carl E. Dranoff, president of Dranoff Properties. He is well known for breathing new life into old buildings by converting neglected historic landmarks into highly acclaimed luxury apartment communities. The Victor is Dranoff’s 70th conversion in a career focused on adaptive reuse of historic structures. The Victor will be a carefully orchestrated blend of high-end, luxury amenities blended with one-of-a-kind features only found in historic buildings. It will pave the way for an entirely new neighborhood as it becomes the linchpin for future development along the Camden waterfront.

The Victor Building, a registered historic landmark, will become a compelling, state-of the-art, residential complex, housing 341 luxury loft apartments with minimum 14-ft. ceilings, an exquisite lobby with 24-hour uniformed concierge, the magnificent “Caruso” clubroom, a dramatic three-story fitness center with 360-degree panoramic views in the “Nipper” Tower, 362 gated and indoor parking spaces and 27,000 sq. ft. of retail space. A highlight of The Victor will be its 330-ft. long interior courtyard rivaling the most picturesque in Europe.

Unobstructed views of Philadelphia’s skyline and waterfront esplanade within walking distance further accentuates the recreational features and appeal of waterfront luxury living. A wide range of retail tenants at The Victor, including restaurants, a gourmet market and coffee bar, will enhance the lifestyle amenities provided to residents and add to the vitality of the area.

“The transformation of this vacant, 550,000-square-foot building, will be the catalyst for an exciting new phase of revitalization under way at the Camden Waterfront,” said Dranoff. “It will transform the waterfront into a true 24-hour neighborhood. There has already been enormous interest expressed from people who want to live in this majestic building, with a priority list of over 400 names and that’s growing daily.”

“So much of the current waterfront entrepreneurial expansion can be attributed to the Cooper’s Ferry Development Association (CFDA) and the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) and the New Jersey’s governor’s office through its critical assistance with CRDA, EDA, DCA and other state agencies,” said Dranoff. “The Camden Redevelopment Authority as well as city council and the mayor’s office also played critical roles.”

According to Dave Perrotta of Intech Construction, the construction manager for the project, the contractors are working alongside such sub-contractors as: Central Jersey Wrecking and Recycling, demolition; A.P. Construction, site work; Cutting Technologies, concrete cutting; M.F. Stein, steel erection and miscellaneous materials contractor; Tri-State, concrete; D.M. Sabia, masonry; US Roofing, roofing; Williard, plumbing/HVAC contractor; Pioneer, exterior restoration; Wyatt Inc., drywall and carpentry subcontractor; GMI Contracting, windows; Bustleton Service, landscaping; Majek Fire Protection, sprinkler contractor; Freedom Glass & Metal, aluminum storefront contractor; Seaquay Architectural Millwork, wood window manufacturer; Quality Elevator, elevator contractor; Sunlight Electric, electrical contractor; and Coastline Corporation, painting contractor.

John Kuhn, Intech’s site supervisor, said that most of the demolition work has been completed on the project. In fact, the steel framing and concrete work has begun. “In addition to the typical equipment on site, there are Thackray and CMC cranes here every couple of days,” said Kuhn. “Also, we had a unique John Deere crusher with extended hoe on site provided by Central Jersey Wrecking and Recycling.”

Central Jersey Wrecking’s President John Ruddy described the John Deere machine as “a rare piece of equipment and on the cutting edge of technology.” According to Ruddy, Central Jersey Wrecking did all of the cutting on the job and the John Deere came in extremely handy. For instance, the machine was used to enlarge the existing courtyard in The Victor and was able to reach down several floors. It proved to be quite useful when working in a tight space.

Ruddy mentioned that, as far as he knew, the long reach John Deere excavator is the first of its kind on the East Coast of the United States but has been used extensively in Europe.

“This excavator was put together by our company in conjunction with Jesco and Lemac,” said Ruddy. “The machine has a long reach device that can go as high as 88 feet. What’s great about this piece of equipment is that it can be taken down and converted from 88 feet to 65 feet in as little as 30 minutes. Its features include a concrete pulverizer in front as well as a sorting bucket. To tell you the truth, we don’t know what we would do without it on a job like this.”

Another unique piece of machinery used on the project was a Brokk 250, which Ruddy described simply as a free-standing robot. The operator stands back at a distance with a joystick in hand to maneuver the machine. “This is another great demolition device,” said Ruddy. “You can place a hammer attachment or pulverizer on it and it is great to take walls down, remove elevator shafts and pulverize floors. This helped us finish the job in three months instead of the scheduled five months.”

A signature of The Victor Building is the distinctive tower featuring the famous stained-glass RCA Victor trademark, “Nipper,” the Jack Russell Terrier, which is visible for miles. The building is strategically located within walking distance to many modes of transportation. The light rail system, opening in spring 2003, adjoins The Victor providing transportation to PATCO’s high-speed line and direct connection to Trenton, as well as quick access to New York. Nearby ferry boats operate year-round. The Aerial Tram, providing four-minute transportation to Penn’s Landing on Delaware Avenue, opening in 2005, will virtually stop at the doorstep of The Victor. It is adjacently located to the Ben Franklin Bridge and Route I-676 providing easy access to Philadelphia, the New Jersey Turnpike and the entire Mid-Atlantic region.

Funding for The Victor’s $60-million conversion is derived from a consortium of sources. The lead lender, with a $30-million conventional mortgage, is Fleet Bank. An additional $8.7 million is in the form of a subordinate loan from the New Jersey Casino Redevelopment Authority (CRDA). DRPA furnished a grant of $5 million for environmental remediation as well as $3 million in a subordinated loan for construction. Equity was supplied by Dranoff Properties and by Related Capital Company, which contributed $11 million in equity through the purchase of federal historic tax credits.

“Fleet is proud to have arranged the $30 million in financing for the renovation and revitalization of the landmark Victor Building, which will become a magnet for continued development of Camden,” said T. Joseph Semrod, chairman of Fleet’s New Jersey and Pennsylvania region.

The future of the city of Camden has been greatly enhanced due to an infusion of $175 million designated for infrastructure improvements over the next 10 years.