I just returned from the 2019 National League of Cities (NLC) board meeting in Indianapolis, where we rolled out the national #lovemycity campaign to spotlight the connection residents feel about their cities. In fact, #lovemycity is the theme for the Small Cities Council meeting we host in Camden this week where we will share creative solutions to the unique challenges facing small communities.
So, as I began to reflect on why I love my city, I immediately thought of each of you, and how I genuinely love the heart and spirit of everyone who loves and cares about Camden and your involvement in the life of our community. I know there is a passion here to maintain our city as is -- and, we will as we move forward -- I love that.
I thought about our lovely parks -- we have 18 parks in the city limits, outstanding for a population of our size. City staff maintains more than 1,000 acres of green space. I call this our green calling card that invites residents and visitors to enjoy the best of walking, biking, gathering and relaxing as intended when the parks were laid out in the late 1700s. And, we are adding parks now -- the Magazine Park on Market Street and Camden’s Wateree Riverfront Environmental Park on Bramblewood Plantation Road.
I also called to mind the many new developments having a very positive effect on the economic vitality of our city today. Last month we welcomed our newest hotel, Hampton Inn by Hilton. City staff worked closely with the developers from vision to reality to bring this new hotel in support of the tourism growth in our area. The developer/owner’s continued investment in our community and support demonstrate their love for our city.
Other developments causing major buzz around Camden have been the redevelopment of River Oak Shopping Center, and opening of national retailers Hobby Lobby and Five Below. Customers anxiously awaited grand openings by queuing-up hours in advance. While the much anticipated Marshalls will open August 8, other new retailers and eateries will be soon opening at River Oaks.
Across the way at Springdale Plaza, developers are sprucing up their parking and signage to attract additional new businesses to the plaza.
The city team continues to make strides toward cleaning up or demolishing vacant or dilapidated properties in the city. This allows for revitalization of neighborhoods for construction of new houses, and in commercial areas for the needed construction in those areas.
While these improvements are immediately visible, not so readily apparent is the overall commercial investment throughout the city is trending upwards. Consider that five years ago, new investment averaged approximately $600,000 per year. Last year, new commercial investment in Camden exceeded $11 million. To date in 2019, commercial investment already exceeds $6 million, and we have several other major projects in the forecast, including a new visitor’s center and a proposed boutique hotel downtown.
Increasing the residential tax base is a top priority, and construction of new and redevelopment of historic homes continues to be very strong. Looking ahead, we expect to see an uptick in construction of new single family housing units, as planned investment in residential site development alone is expected to exceed $11.6 million.
Clearly, the partnerships the city is developing and business development initiatives are making Camden livelier, more livable, and competitive. I love that.
I could not be more proud of our team’s accomplishments. I do love the people I work with whether it be our team members in all our city departments, or our long-time residents and folks who recently moved here. I also love the people who visit.
We will be sharing this love with municipal leadership from across the country as they visit Camden this week. Your city council and I would enjoy your loveable thoughts about Camden, so please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will look for the hashtag #lovemycity in your subject line.
(Alfred Mae Drakeford is the mayor of Camden and a contributing columnist to the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)