“I know one thing about the people in this city and the county of Camden,” Kelly Ripa said in a taped speech during last week’s announcement of a planned $2 billion expansion by Cooper University Health Center in Camden. “We like to dream big, don’t we?”
Ripa is a native of the region and a long-time supporter of both the city and Cooper, having served as a spokesperson and advocate for the hospital, while also helping to launch the Ripa Center for Women’s Health and Wellness at Cooper in Voorhees.
The morning talk fixture was originally set to be on hand for the star-studded announcement, which included the unlikely trio of Gov. Phil Murphy; his predecessor, Chris Christie; and George Norcross, Cooper’s chairman. That group was joined by other officials, local leaders and executives, with “Imagine…” signs adorning the stage.
Ripa noted that her father, Joe, is the Camden County Clerk, and, in fact, her parents first met at Cooper. She said that growing up in the area, they taught her sister and herself to dream big.
“They gave us the gift of imagining a great future,” said Ripa. “You know who else likes to imagine big things? That’s right, George Norcross. Today, he’s proving he isn’t slowing down. He’s dreaming bigger than ever.”
“Imagine $2 billion, the largest single capital private sector investment in the history of the region and, perhaps, the State of New Jersey,” Norcross said.
The new investment will dramatically transform and expand the Camden campus and will include the addition of three clinical buildings. Construction of the first building, at the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and Haddon Avenue, is set for a 2023 groundbreaking. Officials have not given a timetable for completion.
Norcross called the project a complete reconstruction of Cooper. “Not only does this announcement represent the culmination of Cooper’s amazing turnaround since it faced bankruptcy at the turn of the century, but it is also a sign of our commitment to and faith in Camden, its residents and our shared future,” said Norcross.
The project will create more than 100 new private rooms and will bring Cooper to 745 beds when completed. Hospital officials say it will also include emerging technologies and innovations, as well as the latest environmental sustainability best practices to provide care and support, along with greater education and teaching space for the growing academic medical center, the only such in South Jersey.
“Let’s remember today that this announcement is not just about a $2 billion expansion,” Ripa added. “These beautiful buildings are just a representation of the dedication, commitment, and compassion of the Cooper team who serve, heal and educate the people of the region.”
Norcross also reiterated a promise to his native Camden.
“Today, Cooper announces probably for the fourth time in its 135-year history that it will remain in the city of Camden forever,” said Norcross. “It will never abandon this city. And to create opportunities for all of those that are cared for here, those who work here. Opportunity for those who live and work in the city, who care about this institution which has been here 135 years.”
“This historic $2 billion investment will similarly touch all facets of this community,” Murphy said. “As the Cooper campus shows, a hospital and a medical school are not monolithic buildings in the landscape. They are true engines for Camden’s growth. They provide jobs for city residents and attract investment to the city beyond even that which Cooper makes. They are a mark of excellence on this city’s fabric.”
Norcross credited the two governors for their support and efforts to help revitalize Camden.
Christie recalled meeting Norcross for lunch soon after being elected governor where the two discussed Camden’s future. “And over lunch, we made a commitment to each other that our job over the next number of years, however long I had to serve, was going to be to put touchdowns in the end zone. Not to be standing on the sidelines yelling about what we don’t like,” said Christie. “And the reason today is happening is because he kept that commitment to me, both when it was easy to do it and when it was really, really hard to do it. And I’ve kept that commitment to him.”
Norcross noted Christie’s efforts, along with former Mayor Dana Redd, especially in terms of public safety and education initiatives, which he says helped get the city back on track. “Gov. Christie, when he was governor, took it upon himself to, in effect, adopt the city of Camden,” said Norcross.
“And what governors do, when we’re at our best in this state, is we build on the successes of our predecessors,” said Christie. “And I’m proud to see that Gov. Murphy has built on those and enhanced those going forward in his first four years as governor. And I’m confident that he’ll continue to do that in his next four years as governor, as well. That’s what the product is of putting the public before yourself.”
Norcross echoed that sentiment. “In the last five years, Gov. Murphy has continued that work, continuing to support our endeavors,” he said. “He has put his money where his mouth is. He has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the continuance of an American success story – namely the city of Camden.”
“Camden has seen a dramatic transformation in recent years as many state and local partners have worked together to improve the city, and Cooper has played an integral role in those efforts,” Murphy said. “By supporting public safety, educational opportunities, and job creation, in addition to providing quality medical care, Cooper has taken a holistic and meaningful approach to strengthening the health of the community it serves. I applaud this new expansion and Cooper’s ongoing work to improve the lives of Camden’s residents.”
In July, Murphy visited Camden to highlight investments in in the city from this year’s budget, which included more than $180 million from fiscal year 2023, along with another $24 million in transition aid.
“Camden is a city on the rise, and these investments will go toward refurbishing stores and streets, making them more attractive and inviting with fresh paint and repaired brickwork, and new windows and signage, while also bringing in some much-needed upgrades for safety and security,” said Murphy at the time. “I look forward to a continued partnership with Mayor Victor Carstarphen and the city council to further invest in the bright future of the city.”
“This announcement will signify the largest Supplement to Transitional Aid in Camden’s history,” said Carstarphen. “The $24 million in supplemental transitional aid will not only support Camden’s public safety efforts, it will help to reduce illegal dumping, help to bolster ongoing improvements to our water, sewer and infrastructure systems and will leverage millions more in federal, state, county, and local resources already being invested citywide.”
Over the past decade, Camden has transformed itself from one of the country’s poorest and most violent cities into a symbol of renewal. Camden is now the safest it has been in some 50 years while residents experienced an unprecedented turnaround and expansion of schools, improved streets, expanded parks and recreational activities, as well as an increase in the number of jobs and training programs.
Recently – for the first time in at least 40 years – Standard’s & Poor’s rating service lifted the city’s bond rating to A-.
The expansion will build on more than $3.5 billion in investment by private and not-for-profit employers and developers. Today, major employers, corporations and nonprofits call Camden home, including American Water, Campbell Soup Co., Rutgers University, NFI, Holtec, the Michaels Organization, EMR, Camden County College, Rowan University, CSB, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and Lockheed Martin.
“We’ve created an atmosphere now in this city that allows people to believe that they can not only live here, but they can work here, and they can prosper here,” said Christie.
The former governor added that people from every industry now look at Camden as a place where it makes sense to invest. “I don’t expect anybody, except for those in the Cooper Foundation and those who support it, to be doing what they’re doing in Camden for charitable purposes,” said Christie. “Camden becomes a great city again that it once was because people also feel they can come here and prosper, and make money, and have our capitalist system work to reward their great ideas, and their hard work and their confidence in their fellow citizens. And we see that happening every day, and this $2 billion investment is just the largest and best example of what we see happening here.”
“Cooper’s commitment to its home community is a model of how corporate leadership can spark imagination and new opportunities that benefit local residents,” said Norcross. “Camden’s transformation from being America’s poorest and most dangerous city to one on the rise is a national model of what cities can achieve with commitment, faith, and hard work.”
“The city of Camden is proud to be home to Cooper and the eds and meds community that continues to define a new identity for our great city,” said Carstarphen during the expansion announcement.
Ripa reminisced about the remarkable strides made throughout her time collaborating with both Cooper and Camden. “Who would have thought back then that Cooper would be in the position to invest $2 billion to expand its reach and continue the revitalization of Camden,” Ripa asked. “Yet here we are today. And it is time once again to imagine.”