The Hilton Garden Inn — the first hotel to open in Camden in 50 years — had its grand opening less than a week ago.
Bill Kao, the general manager, already knows what he wants: More competition.
Kao, a veteran of the hospitality industry for more than two decades, knows that more hotels, more restaurants, more night life is good for everyone.
“We’re hoping that we’re not the last major anchor in this whole development area,” he said. “We’re hoping that we help attract other businesses to come down. We want more bars. We want more restaurants. We want more hotels. Because, as you start putting in more of those things, you’re going to attract people down here.
“The more, the merrier.”
The hotel is located near the Ben Franklin Bridge and headquarters for American Water. Its grand opening can only be considered another major milestone moment in Camden.
The hotel has 180 guest rooms and 4,173 square feet of meeting space, including a large conference room (more than 3,000 square feet) and three smaller executive rooms. It comes with a restaurant, the Water Street Grill, which is being marketed to draw from more than just hotel guests.
Hotel officials say at least 40% of the workforce will be Camden residents. Right now, that number is limited, but Kao expects it to grow.
“Normally, a hotel of this size would have 35-40 employees,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, we only have 18, six of which are from Camden. But, as we grow, the number of employees from the city will grow, too.”
Kao said the reaction has been positive.
“We’re getting great response from the local community, from the local corporations around us,” he said. “We’re excited to be part of this whole development and the resurgence of Camden.”
The hotel was developed by Ensemble, a nationally known developer of hotels, health care facilities, multifamily and commercial properties based in Phoenix. And it will be run by Concord Hospitality Enterprises, which is based in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Construction took nearly two years because of pandemic-related pauses and delays.
Kris Kolluri, the CEO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, the organization that is overseeing the redevelopment and urban planning of the Camden Waterfront, said the wait was worth it.
“The property is a superb product,” he said. “It presents extraordinarily well. And it presents in Booking.com terms, or Hotels.com terms, as a five-star hotel.
“You could see how a guest would look at the experience of the location, of the food, of the accessibility and of the beautiful finishes in the hotel with a very favorable outlook. And I think that matters.”
It matters in how the city is perceived.
“These investments are more than buildings,” he said. “They ground a community and the ground the city, and they put it on the map. It is very different than other investments, which are equally important.
“From a resident perspective, this reaffirms that the arc that Camden is on is still an upward trajectory.”
That’s what Kao wants.
“We want to be able to have 10-20 restaurants down here so people can choose whatever they want to eat,” he said. “That will bring a lot more people. It’s not competition. It’s giving people more choices. And by giving them more choices, you’re going to attract more people to the city, and especially down here in Camden.”
Kao, who has spent his career in the region, wants others to see what he sees every day.
“I don’t think a lot of people truly understand what has happened down here,” he said. “It’s amazing. The waterfront is truly gorgeous.”