Hotel Marks Surge Of Navy Yard Investment


Photo: Hidden City Daily

When the Phoenix-based real estate developer Ensemble breaks ground on the 172 room Courtyard by Marriott at the Philadelphia Navy Yard next week, it will mark a prolonged period of heightened development at what is emerging as a legitimate center for commerce and, critically, imaginative design.

The five story, 100,000 square foot, $24 million hotel is “a highly customized version of the Marriott Courtyard brand,” said the architect Mark Miller, an associate at Erdy McHenry Architecture, the firm assigned by Liberty Property Trust, which controls much of the development at the Navy Yard, to design the project. As part of the deal to develop the site, Liberty required Ensemble to include a full-service restaurant, and in order to advance design at the Navy Yard, to hire EM (designer of the Navy Yard’s office building Three Crescent Boulevard). “We didn’t want a New Jersey Turnpike box here,” said Brian Berson, Liberty’s director of Navy Yard leasing and development.

“The building lobby is accentuated by a continuous ‘ribbon’ that wraps the wall, floor, and ceiling surfaces to direct guests throughout the space both visually and physically,” said EM’s Miller.

Navy Yard Courtyard by Marriott | Image: Erdy McHenry Architecture

Soon after the hotel’s groundbreaking, officials from the Navy Yard, PIDC, and Liberty Property Trust will announce the first revision of the 2004 Navy Yard Master Plan, by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The new plan will call for residential development in the “historic core” near South Broad Street, two million square feet of additional commercial offices, and a revision of the original concept of a “harbor” east of the corporate center. The plan also calls for the long sought extension of the Broad Street Subway, a vision that’s “as alive as it’s ever been,” said Berson.

In the meantime, PIDC will begin running two shuttles in December to serve Navy Yard employees and visitors: a Market East to Navy Yard express, and a constantly running Navy Yard loop that will take riders to the Broad Street Line’s AT&T Station and to other destinations nearby (such as XFinity Live). The second shuttle will supersede the little-used route 71 SEPTA bus.

This month, Liberty will complete the $26 million Rouse Boulevard (originally Diagonal Boulevard), complete with rain gardens to capture 80 percent of the stormwater that falls on the street, new sidewalks, and pedestrian lighting.

Site work has also recently begun on the Kieran Timberlake-commissioned headquarters for the US Department of Energy-funded Energy Efficient Buildings Hub, a combined historic renovation and new construction project.

Iroko Headquarters, designed by DIGSAU | Photo: Nathaniel Popkin

In November, the pharmaceutical firm Iroko will move into their 56,000 square foot headquarters, a dynamic building designed by the architectural firm DIGSAU. Iroko will be followed by Glaxo, the pharmaceutical giant, which will move its North American corporate office into its Stern-designed headquarters in February.

Berson said commercial activity at the Navy Yard is as strong as it’s been since the economic crash in 2008. Liberty has recently leased 51,000 square feet of flex space at the Navy Yard’s commercial center (the location of Tasty Baking’s bakery). Much beyond all that, Berson reported that he has received serious proposals from five potential corporate tenants, deals worth a combined $300 million. While he says he is hopeful to complete deals for these potential tenants, which would amount to considerable new construction, Berson cautioned that they are in early stages of negotiations. Rents are relatively strong compared to the still soft suburban and Center City markets.

But Berson said the Navy Yard is attractive to employers because of the Keystone Opportunity Zone tax breaks, its location, and the “vibe,” some combination of the campus feel, the architecture–both old and new–the trees, ships, water, and parks. A central green, to be designed by landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, noted for its work on New York’s High Line and Race Street Pier, has completed design development and awaits funding.

Navy Yard Courtyard by Marriott | Image: Erdy McHenry Architecture

“Similar to the Iroko building and the Three Crescent Drive building,” said the architect Miller, “the Courtyard by Marriott employs a system that animates the facade, offering varying levels of color and shadow as the environment changes throughout the day. As the facade curves at the corner of Rouse Boulevard and Intrepid Avenue, the density is reduced with the introduction of larger expanses of glass that open the views of the suites to the [forthcoming] park across the street.”

The facade materials also regulate solar heat gain “by using a system of sub-girts and custom aluminum clips to prevent transfer of heat to the building sub-framing,” said Miller.

John Vidumsky contributed reporting to this story.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine.


  1. Am I the only one who reads about all that’s going on down there and screams EXTEND THE BROAD STREET LINE IMMEDIATELY! at his computer screen?

  2. Expense is the issue with a BSL extension down there. Remember the whole Navy Yard sits in the Delaware’s 100-year floodplain, and that the water table is consequentially extremely high. The extension will be expensive to build and to maintain, and until a substantial residential presence starts to percolate in, SEPTA is quite right to point out its relatively limited utility.

    The Navy Yard also has the issue of only two points of entry–one of which is nearly invisible (25th St.) With Southport, a natural extension of Delaware Ave. could yield another point of entry, but the large railroad yard to the north inhibits natural grid connections. The Navy Yard really is an island…League Island.

  3. Why does the BSL extension have to be underground? Could the bring it grade level or elevate it once it’s into the Navy Yard?

  4. Navy land grows, center city losses ground. Is it a good deal?


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