Two planned redevelopments of one-time major industrial sites in Philadelphia are progressing, but at vastly different paces, based on extent of site remediation required and legal issues.

The Philadelphia Navy Yard is a 1,200-acre former U.S. Navy base and shipyard south of center city, of which 1,000 acres was transferred to the city with base closure in the 1990s and now has mixed use development. Developers now plan to break ground on two new biotechnology buildings as part of a $2.5-billion project on part of the former site.

The project's $400-million first-phase also includes more than 100,000 sq ft of speculative laboratory and office development before the end of 2022, plus residential and hospitality projects, say developers Ensemble Real Estate Investments and Mosaic Development Partners, which struck a deal last year with the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC), the city’s manager of the former federal property.  

On April 7, officials announced a master planning update process for the property. The plan, a revision of one first developed in 2004 and was updated in 2013, is expected to be released in spring 2022. More than half of the contract will be performed by certified minority and women owned business enterprises with specialized expertise in key elements of the master plan.

Ensemble is in development of 14 properties at the Navy Yard, totaling 1.3 million sq ft on more than 45 acres.

The life sciences buildings will provide space for companies from early-stage R&D through commercialization, said the developers. “The Navy Yard is a critical component in the growth of life-science companies in the region,” says Mark Seltzer, an Ensemble senior vice president.

Ensemble Mosaic envisions about 3,000 residential units and nearly 3 million sq ft of other manufacturing, offices, hotels, retail and other space.

The Navy Yard currently is home to 170 employers occupying 7.5 million sq ft among mix use properties including retail, office, industrial and residential.

The Navy managed the site’s $88-million remediation, with total site demolition and decommissioning costs of about $320 million.

Tough Job

In a separate South Philadelphia project possibly set to begin in 2021, Chicago-based Hilco Redevelopment Partners aims to develop a 1,400-acre former refinery site, after its $225-million purchase from Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining and Marketing LLC in a bankruptcy sale last year.

Hilco proposes the site to become a commercial logistics hub with between 13 million and 15 million sq ft of industrial space. Hilco’s plans are similar to what it and its partners developed near Baltimore, where Hilco bought a bankrupt steel mill in 2012 that is being redeveloped into a multiuse logistics center called Tradepoint Atlantic.

A Hilco spokeswoman, Katie Kennedy, said  “These are the early stages of a 10-year project.”

Last year, Hilco filed a “conceptual master plan” with the city, the first time its building plans had been made public.

Hilco said in October 2020 that the company will invest "hundreds of millions" of dollars to decommission, demolish and remediate the former refinery site once owned by Gulf Oil and Sunoco, which was closed after a massive 2019 fire.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining and Marketing LLC, and a trust that is liquidating the company’s remaining assets, sued Babcock & Wilcox Co. in a city court in March for alleged actions that may have led to the catastrophic fire and seeks damages, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. B&W did not respond to the newspaper.

Hilco said last year that it was "actively coordinating its work with a company responsible for certain historical environmental remediation work.” It did not disclose the remediation firm.

The plan sets a deadline of Dec. 31, 2030, to achieve state cleanup standards under terms of ownership, which also specify the property can only be developed for nonresidential use. Hilco has said that demolition is likely to take about three years before redevelopment can begin.

“The complexity and scale of the demolition, decommissioning and remediation requires a strategically coordinated, phased approach to put these 1,300 acres back into commerce,” says Jeremy Grey, Hilco executive vice president.

Cleanup efforts include removal of 850,000 barrels of refinery waste products, and removing some 950 miles of pipeline, and abatement of about 30,000 tons of asbestos. Demolition also includes a labyrinth of industrial infrastructure and equipment left behind by what was once the Northeast's largest refinery.

The redevelopment plan includes demolition of 105 on-site buildings, two boiler rooms, 3,000 tanks and vessels once used to heat, hold and refine hydrocarbons and two wastewater treatment plants.

The site’s soil management plan, approved last year by the state and city, calls for tainted soil to be capped beneath development.