Philadelphia’s transformation of The Navy Yard, from a military center to urban development, successfully integrates commercial and historical buildings with recreational areas and activities
By Dani Neiley
Philadelphia, Pa. is known as the birthplace of American democracy. However, a lesser known fact is it’s also the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. In 1776, the Continental Congress leased land in support of naval defense along Philadelphia’s Front Street docks. The Naval Act of 1794 called for six frigates, or warships, to defend the country, and in 1797, those ships sailed from a shipyard in Philadelphia’s Southwark neighborhood.
The Southwark Yard was active for most of the 19th century, but the transition between wood-hulled and iron-clad ships proved to be its downfall; the new technology required to build iron ships necessitated the creation of an entirely new shipyard. In 1868, the City of Philadelphia transferred 923-acre League Island to the United States Government, and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard slowly took over.
Until September 26, 1996, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard operated as a naval base and employed over 40,000 people during World War II—the height of its production period. In total, 53 warships were built at the shipyard, and 1,218 received repairs. The last ship to be built at the yard, called Blue Ridge, was completed in 1970.
Today, the Navy Yard stands out as a paramount American landmark, and it is one of the most successful commercial redevelopments of a former military facility in the entire United States.
PIDC, Philadelphia’s public-private economic development corporation, has been managing and developing the Navy Yard since 2000. In that time, more than $150 million in publicly funded infrastructure improvements has leveraged upwards of $750 million in new private investment, according to the Navy Yard’s website.
“Since its transformation from a closed military facility into a vibrant multi-use campus, The Navy Yard has become a state-of-the-art facility providing an outstanding setting where global companies as well as local, entrepreneurial businesses and start-ups thrive,” said Jim Kenney, the Mayor of Philadelphia.
A growth spurt occurred for the yard in 2015, when 12 new businesses were added to the area, making room for 500 new employees. As of early 2016, the tally stands at 152 companies and over 12,000 workers. More than 7.5 million square feet of space is occupied or in development for businesses.
Because of that number, you might think that the area is filled with buildings – and that may be true – but ample room has been made for parks and recreation. With over 20 acres of parks, a mile of waterfront trail, and beautiful landscaping throughout the area, there are plenty of opportunities for respite in The Navy Yard.