Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made his closing pitch in a series of campaign stops last night, one of which was the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. If you were listening closely (disclosure: I was), one new line stood out like a beacon of new light among the now-familiar roll call of complaints about his Democratic opponent, the media, and war refugees. If you guessed that line was “reactivate the Philadelphia Navy Yard!” run right out, buy yourself a cigar, and smoke it down to ash while trying to figure out what he really meant.
Reactivate The Philadelphia Navy Yard!
So, how did “Philadelphia Navy Yard” become a Donald Trump pitch point at the climactic final night of a long, grueling campaign? To unravel this tangled thread, let’s begin at the beginning.
As described in The Navy Yard website (that’s its official name, btw — just plain The Navy Yard), Philadelphia is the birthplace of the US Navy.
A private shipyard in the Philadelphia built the first ships for the newly formed United States in the waning years of the 18th century. As the 19th century opened the Navy established its own shipyard there, eventually settling on a location that served from 1876 until its closure in 1996.
The last new Navy vessel built at PNSY was the USS Blue Ridge. If you guessed that happened in 1996, you missed it by 26 years. It was completed all the way back in 1970.
The Blue Ridge is still in service, btw:
It has been stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, for 36 years and it is the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship. Here’s a snippet from a representative presser from last May:
U.S 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff returned to Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka May 16, concluding a three-month patrol.
Blue Ridge participated in exercises at sea with the Sri Lankan navy and the People’s Liberation Army (navy), conducting ship maneuvers and a Codes for Unexpected Encounters at Sea (CUES) exercise, enhancing the promotion of safe navigation and coordination between vessels.
Things move slowly over at the Pentagon, so although rumors about closing PNSY began flying after completion of the Blue Ridge, the final decision was not made until 1991. For those of you keeping score at home, it was closed under a Republican Commander in Chief, President George H.W. Bush, as part of a broader base realignment initiative.
A court challenge held things up for a few years, during which time PSNY overhauled two ships until the the hammer finally came down in 1996.
Though the facility no longer builds entire ships, some operations do remain on the site to this day: the Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station, Propeller Shop and Foundry, and Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility.
Reactivate The Philadelphia Navy Yard! Which Is Already Active!
So, why does Donald Trump think it would be helpful to reactivate a ship-building facility that has not built a ship in 46 years?
This is just a wild guess, but one reason would be to kickstart the US steel industry and put people back to work making steel — after all, ships need a lot of steel, right?
However, if you’re going to start building Navy ships at PNSY again, you’re going to throw a lot of people off the site and out of work.
PSNY stopped building ships long ago, but lots of other things have been going on there in the past 15 or so years:
The Navy Yard is a great American landmark that has been transformed into the most successful commercial redevelopment of a former military facility anywhere in the country…more than $150 million in publicly funded infrastructure improvements has leveraged in excess of $750 million in new private investment.
Currently there are 152 companies on the site employing about 12,000 people.
Cleaner Jobs For Cleaner Cities
Aside from pushing 12,000 working people out of their workplaces, the Donald Trump reactivation plan would also open a huge can of economic development worms. It would rip up a site that has become an urban green space and high tech showcase, and replace it with a very large, more or less conventional manufacturing facility.
Philadelphia has been carving out a green identity for itself with a raft of sustainability initiatives — even the Eagles are on board. The Navy Yard campus has been designed as a sustainable facility with a full slate of programs including LEED construction, renewable energy, alternative transportation and sustainable landscaping.
One of the first clean energy initiatives undertaken by the Obama Administration was the establishment of an Energy Innovation Hub at the Navy Yard back in 2010.
Not all of the original tenants have panned out (The Mark Group was one notable fail), but there have been more than enough success stories to make up the loss. Here’s the most recent activity, as posted on the Navy Yard blog on October 6:
Liberty Property Trust and PIDC joined WuXi AppTec, Inc., a global leader in pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, and medical devices, for a ribbon cutting ceremony to open their third facility at the Navy Yard. This new 150,000 square foot facility which, when fully operational, has the potential to accommodate an additional 200 high tech manufacturing and support jobs.
But Donald Trump Says It’s Easy…
As of this writing, Election Day has just begun. If Donald Trump wins the Oval Office, brace yourself for a yuuuuuuge fight over this prime patch of Philadelphia real estate.
Mr. Trump gave his fans in Scranton the idea that reactivating the Philadelphia Navy Yard would be a simple matter. As a real estate developer, he should know better.
The fact is that the federal government does not own the property any more. It is owned by the residents of Philadelphia.
Philadelphia originally owned the site, and it forked over the property to the US Navy back in 1868 for the princely sum of $1. It regained title to the property in 2000.
PIDC, Phildelphia’s public-private economic development agency, controls the property as its master developer on behalf of the city and the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development. Just a wild guess, but Philadelphia is not likely to give up its property without a fight.
Stay tuned — and don’t forget to vote.
Images: Top, first wartime launch at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard uploaded to flickr.com by Mark Morgan, creative commons license; bottom, Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jordan KirkJohnson.
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