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January 24, 2017

After years of talk, Camden school headquarters goes to bid

Development Education
Carroll - Camden Board of Education RCA Building Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The Camden Board of Education Administration Building, the former executive offices of RCA Victor, is on the market with a $6.7 million minimum bid.

INVESTOR WANTED: Iconic fixer upper with character and potential. Landmark with history. Needs TLC and imagination. Accessible to transportation. Stunning water views of Philadelphia. Bids start at $6.7 million.

The state-run Camden Board of Education is looking to downsize. The shrinking city school system has its own headquarters at 201 N. Front St. up for sale. A long-term lease or lease-purchase is also possible.

Talk about selling the building, once the headquarters for RCA in Camden, has kicked around for two years.

But now there is a deadline: Bids are due at 10 a.m. on Jan. 27.

According to the bid specs:

"The property consists of an approximately 1.03-acre lot improved with an approximately 80,000 square foot, eight story office tower constructed in 1902, as well as a single story, approximately 38,000 square foot warehouse addition dating from the 1950s, and will be delivered vacant.

“The property is an excellent opportunity for redevelopment, located at a key site near the developing waterfront of Camden, adjacent to major investments such as the Victor Lofts and planned redevelopment of the Ruby Match Factory, close to developing 'restaurant row,' and adjacent to the planned mixed use development of 1.7 million square feet along the Camden Waterfront, scheduled for completion in 2019.”

And while residential use is not currently permitted, the specs say it's a possibility.

Echoes of the building’s past remain, including the boardroom and executive office where Eldridge Reeves Johnson, the inventor of the Victrola phonograph, worked. 

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The view looking west toward the Delaware River waterfront and Philadelphia beyond.

But the building is careworn from years of neglect.

RCA bought out Johnson in the 1920s. The manufacturer continued making electronic products in what is now the Victor building across from the school administration building, now luxury apartments, and in the adjacent so-called Radio Lofts, now a vacant shell controlled – but undeveloped – by a Camden city agency.

National Archives and Records Administration/PROVIDED PHOTO

RCA once was a huge presence in Camden, where it made phonographs, recorded singers, assembled radios and manufactured televisions. Now RCA's former Camden corporate headquarters are up for sale, with a $6.7 million minimum bid. Pictured is a radio assembly plant in what is now known as the Victor, which is across Market Street from the headquarters building.

The Victor, owned by Philadelphia developer Carl Dranoff, was up for sale for a few months in 2014, though it is no longer on the market. Radio Lofts, which Dranoff had planned to rehab, continues to decay and languish.

Brendan Lowe, a spokesman for the school district, said this week that a smaller space – maybe a vacant school, of which there are seven – or another office space would become the school administration building this summer if a bid is accepted.