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Published: Tuesday, 2/12/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Historic ex-shipyard stays afloat

Employment hits 10,000 milestone at Philly site

Vehicles move thought the main gate at the Navy yard in Philadelphia. Vehicles move thought the main gate at the Navy yard in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA — The city’s Navy Yard, a massive military powerhouse where battleships were born until the Cold War put it on ice, is celebrating a milestone that seemed a stretch when the Navy shipped out 17 years ago.

The nation’s first shipyard — its origins date to 1776 — the property is now home to 130 companies.

“There was a lot of uncertainty early on,” said John Grady, president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. “People weren’t sure what we were going to do to replace this engine of activity that was there.”

Last week, the Navy Yard marked its 10,000-employee milestone and unveiled an update to its 2004 master plan that is forecasting 1,000 apartments, more parks and open space, more construction, and continued adaptive reuse of Navy-era industrial buildings.

About $30 million in city wage taxes and $47 million in state income and sales taxes were generated last year.

About one-third of the 130 businesses get some form of tax break but in exchange must make a certain amount of capital investments or increase employment. Companies calling the Navy Yard home include Urban Outfitters and Tasty Baking Co.; several universities offer classes and other schools collaborate with private firms on green-energy research.

The end of the Cold War spelled the end of the shipyard, and by 1996 the Navy had packed its bags. Roughly 7,000 civilian jobs were lost.

After the Navy transferred ownership of about 1,100 acres to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the public-private partnership began floating ideas for the site. Four years later, a road map was unveiled to guide growth of what essentially is a city within a city at the southern end of Broad Street.

The Navy Yard hasn’t abandoned its industrial roots. Aker Philadelphia Shipyard makes commercial tanker ships, other firms build shipbuilding-related products, and the Navy has research and engineering facilities on site and as some mothballed ships.

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