Philadelphia Navy Yard: An SCDA Update

In 2009, the American Architectural Foundation first engaged the Philadelphia Navy Yard project team through our Sustainable Cities Design Academy (SCDA). Building on the 2004 Master Plan for the site, that engagement focused on identifying and leveraging opportunities to achieve urban, mixed-use development. Additionally, the Navy Yard team sought guidance on best practices in sustainable planning, design, and development, including strategies coordinated with the recently launched GreenPlan Philadelphia and LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND) certification process.

Through SCDA, the team realized symbiotic relationships that the Navy Yard development could promote with the City of Philadelphia. These included integrating transportation and open space networks throughout the 1,000 acre site as well as developing residential and commercial spaces onsite to promote 24/7 use.

In 2011, AAF again contributed to the Navy Yard project, this time by inviting Brian Cohen of Liberty Property Trust to represent the project at a 2011 SCDA forum, Engaging Community Development: Best Practices from Public-Private Partnerships.

Recently we followed up with the team to discuss their progress and review how the Navy Yard development has evolved. This is their story…

The Navy Yard is a more than 1,000 acre redevelopment of a former Naval Base located in Philadelphia. In 2000, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) took control and focused on the existing industrial assets developed by the United States Navy, including several large dry docks. After stabilizing this western portion of the Navy Yard, PIDC turned its efforts to the remaining 500 acres which included historic buildings worthy of redevelopment and structures with no reuse opportunities. PIDC demolished over 100 structures to prepare a large portion of the site for new development. PIDC desired to leverage the private sector’s resources for new development in public-private partnership that would: create large scale commercial office; utilize private sector capital, planning, marketing, and development; establish credibility, brand identity, and long-term private marketplace dynamics; and get a high-quality product built that would expand the Philadelphia job base.

Once Liberty Property Trust was selected as the developer of the Navy Yard Corporate Center, Liberty and PIDC completed a master-planning effort of the Navy Yard in 2004. The Master Plan offered a vision based on the property’s assets, including its enormous scale; its location at the center of the region’s transportation network and labor force; 2.5 miles of frontage along the Delaware River; and its proximity to cultural amenities and intellectual capital of the region.

Map of Philadelphia demonstrating the Navy Yard’s physical connections and adjacencies.

1999 Aerial of Philadelphia Navy Yard. Photo courtesy of PIDC

The Plan’s vision was one of a dynamic, mixed-use waterfront community that includes industrial development, offices, retail, waterfront amenities, research and development, mass transit, public spaces, and potential residential development. It is a vision grounded in the essential urban planning values of smart regional growth, sustainability, historic preservation, and pedestrian-oriented streets.

Since the creation of the Master Plan, the Navy Yard has seen tremendous activity. The public has invested $150 million in demolition and public infrastructure and has leveraged significant private investment. Liberty completed or is under development on 10 commercial buildings totaling 1,030,000 square feet and representing $300 million of investment. In addition, other private companies have invested $350 million.

Sustainability is the cornerstone of the Navy Yard redevelopment. The Master Plan includes detailed guidelines that require high levels of LEED certification for new development, innovative storm water management practices, and significant public green spaces. The implementation of the Plan far exceeded the sustainability requirements set forth in the guidelines. Liberty completed or is under construction on seven LEED-certified buildings, including two Platinum Certified buildings. In addition, Liberty and PIDC partnered with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) on the Green Streets initiative that manages storm water from the street through rain gardens (the first city-wide initiative of its kind).

In the eight-year public-private partnership between Liberty and PIDC, the Navy Yard transformed from a decommissioned naval base to a thriving commercial development with over 6.5 million square feet of commercial space supporting 11,000 employees. The Navy Yard has over 115 companies and institutions including Urban Outfitters, GlaxoSmithKline, Penn State University, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. The redevelopment continues, as Liberty and PIDC are only eight years into a 20-year redevelopment. Both entities feel that the keys to this project’s success can be attributed to diversity of partners and types of uses, great leadership, good communication, trust, and relationships built with public and private partners


  • 2000: PIDC obtains control from the federal government of the 1000-acre Navy Yard.
  • 2002: In March, PIDC issues a Request for Qualifications for a portion of the Navy Yard for office development and receives 11 responses. In April, PIDC issues a Request for Proposals to three finalists. In August, Liberty, with its joint venture partner Synterra Partners, is selected.
  • 2003: In January, Liberty/Synterra LP and PIDC execute a development agreement and commence a joint master planning effort that includes significant public involvement.
  • 2004:  In January, the Navy Yard Master Plan is released, and during April, Liberty completes a 75,000-square-foot research building for AppTec Laboratory Services.
  • 2005: In November, Liberty completes the 77,000-square-foot One Crescent Drive, the first developer-owned LEED Platinum building.
  • 2006: During June, Urban Outfitters moves into five redeveloped historic buildings, and in September, Liberty completes a 46,000-square-foot office building for Unique Industries.
  • 2007: In November, Liberty completes a 26,000-square-foot data center for the Philadelphia Stock Exchange.
  • 2009: During January, representatives from Liberty Property Trust, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation receive technical assistance for the Navy Yard Master Plan at the Sustainable Cities Design Academy. In April, Liberty completes a 96,000-square-foot speculative LEED Gold office building at Three Crescent Drive. In October, Liberty completes a 345,000-square-foot LEED Silver bakery for Tasty Baking Company, the largest LEED-certified bakery in the nation.
  • 2010: During the fall, the U.S. Department of Energy Efficiency Building HUB was awarded to Penn State, along with 40 partners (including UTC and IBM). The EEB HUB locates at the Navy Yard, and it will help to roll out policies affecting existing infrastructure and buildings on a national scale.
  • 2011: During February, Urban Outfitters announces it will expand into three additional historic buildings that it will redevelop into its seventh building at the Navy Yard. In June, Liberty breaks ground on Five Crescent Drive, a 205,000 square foot office building targeting LEED Platinum for GlaxoSmithKline, and in August, Liberty breaks ground on a 56,000-square-foot office building targeting LEED Gold for Iroko Pharmaceuticals. During September, Liberty completes 102,000-square-feet of speculative LEED Certified flex space in two buildings, and in October, Liberty and PIDC announce an agreement with Ensemble Hotel Partners to develop a 168-room Courtyard by Marriott. During November, Brian Cohen, Liberty, is invited to AAF’s SCDA 2011 forum to present the Navy Yard case study to date and to participate in a discussion about best practices in community engagement around public-private partnership projects.
  • 2012: The Research and Development economy emerges. Since the 2004 Master Plan, $650 million worth of private investment developed in the Navy Yard. A new urban campus plan emerges that incorporates residential, contributing to a vision for a true urban community. During the fall, PIDC will roll-out the latest Navy Yard master plan and continue to work on infrastructure improvements and investments in the public realm. Toward the end of 2012, Marriott will break ground on its proposed Courtyard by Marriott property and PIDC will roll-out the latest Navy Yard master plan.
  • Projected for 2013: $25 million in infrastructure projects, including 5½ acres of public space designed by James Corner of Field Operations. PIDC and partners will continue to develop context sensitive transitions between the historic and corporate cores, moving deeper into the site, with public spaces forming the central area of development and creating a framework for future building. This will be a dominant site element and a way to add value to the campus, as there are no natural original land features remaining.

PIDC and partners believe public spaces are value creators for development, and look forward to the riverfront trail’s completion, as it will possibly link-up with other established and future trail systems as well as provide networks of open space.

SCDA 2009 Philadelphia Project Team:

Brian Cohen
Vice President of Development and Leasing, Liberty Property Trust

John Grady
Senior Vice President, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation

Quentin Kruel
Project Manager, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation

Alan Urek, AICP
Director of Strategic Planning and Policy, Philadelphia City Planning Commission

SCDA 2009 Resource Team:

Sandra Mallory, LEED AP
City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development, Seattle, WA

Victoria Meyers, AIA
Principal, hanrahan Meyers Architects, New York, NY

Cameron Thomson, LEED AP
Sustainability Consultant, ARUP, New York, NY

Images in the slideshow courtesy of Liberty Property Trust. Images in text and featured image courtesy of PIDC.

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Posted in: Adaptive Reuse, Civic Leaders + Government, Economic Development, Infrastructure, Partnerships, Print, Public Spaces, Sustainability, Sustainable Cities Design Academy, Transportation

The American Architectural Foundation has been dedicated to advancing the role of architecture and design in American society since its founding in 1943 by the American Institute of Architects.

In its 75 years in existence the Foundation’s work has taken many forms — from educational programming and exhibitions in its early years to large-scale design initiatives and programs —all of which serve to create a rich legacy.

As the managing partner of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design for twenty years, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the United States Conference of Mayors, the Foundation helped move the needle on design and cities. And, through its other signature programs like Save America’s Treasures in partnership with National Parks Service, the Sustainable Cities Design Academy, and Design for Learning, the Foundation has provided critical design leadership training and technical assistance to hundreds of elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, and other key decision makers in the design process.

In recent years, cities and civic leaders have embraced design and design thinking in a way that could not have been imagined when the Foundation begin its work back in 1943 — and AAF’s role in this transformation is a source of great pride for the Foundation. With this increased interest in the role of design in shaping our cities came a proliferation of new organizations to support and facilitate this cultural shift. These advances in the role of design in American society and changes in the nonprofit design sector, coupled with the departure of the organization’s longest-serving CEO, prompted the Foundation’s Board to embark on an intensive and lengthy process to examine the ongoing role and work of the Foundation.

As the Board of Regents reflected on the positive changes of the cultural value of design, the accomplishments of the Foundation, and how the legacy of the Foundation’s work is being carried out by its former staff in new roles and organizations across the country, they reached the conclusion that the American Architectural Foundation had accomplished what it set out to do. As a result, the Foundation began to complete its remaining programs and wind down its operations in the Summer of 2018 and the organization’s endowments have been distributed to allied organizations. The Foundation’s research and reports will remain available on its website as a resource to the field.

The Foundation’s work would not have been possible without the incredible talents of its many staff over the decades, the generous support of its funders, and the tireless dedication of its civic & design partners across the country. The Board remains deeply proud of the significant contributions Foundation has made in its 75-year history and would like to acknowledge that this would not have been possible without the efforts, dedication, and support from so many of you.