Property’s Morning Obsession: The Navy Yard As Innovation Hub for Building Technology

The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets: the progress the Navy Yard has made from movie setting for post-apocalyptic zombie flick to thriving industrial center that stands as a symbol of what can happen when political will and developmental acumen come together for the city’s greater good.

There are now approximately 10,000 employees in the Yard’s 6.5 million square feet working for 130 companies, many of those in the technology sector, which is booming business these days. Over at Technically Philly, Juliana Reyes examines the Navy Yard as an innovation hub specifically within that context, citing “tech tenants” that include startup funder Benjamin Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania; the Energy Efficient Buildings (EEB) Hub; Philadelphia Technology Park data center; Urban Outfitters’ ecommerce team; and the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, among others. And so much more tech innovation is on the horizon, including collaborations between these groups.

Reyes says that “the corridor has the potential to be one of the city’s major tech hubs” within 10 years. But for those worried about draining Center City and other areas of tech companies, the Navy Yard’s tech planners seem to be focused on a very particular type of tech innovation, and one that needs space to succeed: sustainable retrofitting, or “building technology.”

“We want to be the premiere place in the country for any company who’s innovating in the building technology space,” said Laurie Actman, executive director of the EEB Hub, a five-year $129 million research initiative with more than two dozen partners, including Penn State University and Drexel University.

The EEB Hub’s stated goal is to reduce commercial energy use by 20 percent by 2020 through research on best practices, but another one of its main priorities is to build “a community of [building tech] innovators” at the Navy Yard. And the space is the perfect “testbed” for this kind of work, Actman said, because the Navy Yard has more than 250 old buildings that are prime for retrofitting.

We can’t think of a better space for this kind of technology innovation, and it does indeed assuage the panic that people feel when companies like GlaxoSmithKline leave Center City and move into the Navy Yard.

For more on the other aspects of the Navy Yard’s developments as a technology center, read Reyes’ excellent breakdown. (Note disclosure at top.)

With 10,000 jobs, will the Navy Yard stand on its own as an innovation hub? [Technically Philly]