Move to Philadelphia's Navy Yard will be a culture shock for GlaxoSmithKline employees

An artist's rendering of the Navy Yard development, where GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. plans to move by the end of 2012. Below, a field on the grounds is the site for a football game for (from left) Amy Feeney, Eric Long, Tim Horan, and Dan Feeney.
An artist's rendering of the Navy Yard development, where GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. plans to move by the end of 2012. Below, a field on the grounds is the site for a football game for (from left) Amy Feeney, Eric Long, Tim Horan, and Dan Feeney.
Posted: March 06, 2011

Never mind the blow that GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C.'s decision to leave Center City has dealt Philadelphia's already vacancy-battered commercial landlords.

What about the effect on the pharmaceutical company's 1,300 employees, who will move by 2012's end from a bustling downtown location to the Navy Yard?

Talk about culture shock.

Their new digs will be part of a tranquil, suburbanlike corporate campus along the Delaware River at the city's southern edge - the towers they now occupy on 16th Street, between Vine and Race Streets, but a speck, if that, on the distant skyline.

No more museums, pubs, or cool Comcast Center holiday shows just steps away from the office. No more short strolls at lunch to pick up dry cleaning or take in the latest blooms - and other curiosities - at LOVE Park. The subway doesn't even run as far as the Navy Yard.

Glaxo's new home is destined for just inside the entrance of the work-in-progress Navy Yard - where free parking and water views are plentiful, eating choices reachable by foot not so much.

In fact, they amount to the cafeteria and coffee shop at the trendy Urban Outfitters Inc. headquarters, open to all Navy Yard employees, and a dinerlike eatery and a takeout place elsewhere in the 1,200-acre complex that serve only breakfast and lunch.

If a need for this or that arises during a workday, it means "a 10-minute ride to Target on Delaware Avenue," said Dave Gloeckner, 33, a mechanical engineer at the Navy Yard.

A place or two to meet after work over a beer and a plate of wings "would be a very good thing," Gloeckner said.

Gerry Krauss would toast that. The 32-year-old electrical engineer from Levittown is responsible for "finding activities and events to keep the morale up" among his fellow employees at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Philadelphia, which develops and maintains ships and their systems for the U.S. Navy.

Besides intramural sports, a meet-and-greet farmer's market/picnic event Urban Outfitters occasionally holds is "about the only mingling that I've noticed" among the Navy Yard workforce of 8,000, Krauss said.

He and his colleagues are not looking for much, he said: "We've all hoped they'd bring in convenience stores and gas stations."

The complex of 115 companies - from small start-ups to sizable operations such as Tasty Baking Co. - has been a redevelopment priority in the city since the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. acquired the property from the federal government in 2000.

Up to 20,000 employees are forecast when the site is fully built out. At least 10,000 are expected within three years as a result of Glaxo's relocation and the 1,000 jobs Urban Outfitters has said it will add by then.

To those growing impatient for more things unrelated to work at the Navy Yard, John Gattuso urges: "Give it time."

He is regional director at Liberty Property Trust, the Navy Yard's lead commercial developer.

"We'll see additional amenities with each passing year," Gattuso said, especially when housing is added to the Navy Yard, as its master plan proposes.

In the meantime, he said, "right outside the door . . . is South Philadelphia, with some of the best restaurants in the world."

Citizens Bank Park, with its gastronomic and imbibing options - not to mention the baseball - is a quick jaunt away. So, too, will be a variety of new retail, entertainment, and dining venues when Philly Live rises where the Spectrum is being demolished, said John Grady, senior vice president at PIDC.

As for Center City's dining, shopping, and other forms of fun, they are "only 10 minutes" away, said Jennifer Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Glaxo.

Employees are "curious" about the Navy Yard, Armstrong said, and "really looking forward to the new building" - a four-story, glass-walled, environmentally sensitive structure designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern - "and having options we currently don't have, such as sports leagues . . . walking the walking path, taking a bike for a spin."

The first mile of a 2.5-mile planned riverfront esplanade is under construction and expected to be open next year. The new 3.5-acre Crescent Park just inside the Navy Yard's front gate includes a putting green.

A little beyond is the eight-acre Marine Parade Grounds, where from April to November softball, kick ball, and soccer leagues organized by the Philadelphia Sport and Social Club have been providing opportunities for Navy Yard employees to bond since 2007, for up to $65 a person, co-owner Dan Feeney said.

How important are amenities such as restaurants and stores to a company's decision on where to locate?

In most cases, they do not make the list of the top five factors, said Wayne Fisher, executive vice president at Grubb & Ellis Co., a commercial broker representing landlords and tenants.

Taxes, availability of labor, property and operational costs, and overall business climate are more typically the driving factors, Fisher said. (Glaxo cited a need for a more open, collaborative working environment and cost savings of at least $26 million a year.)

But do not count out the desires of twenty and thirtysomethings in company site selections going forward, Fisher said.

"I hear more and more every day about demands from this group of people in terms of what they expect out of their job . . . out of the work environment," he said. "All of that says downtowns of the world should be getting stronger and stronger."

Comcast seems to be a case in point.

Next month, 200 people working on the next generation of Comcast video products will move from an office park in Radnor to Center City.

"Center City has a vitality and resources that make it a terrific place to work," said spokesman John Demming. "There's great culture, public transportation, restaurants, and a workforce that's technically savvy that we're trying to attract."

Glaxo's Armstrong does not dispute that, and contends her company's move to the Navy Yard will not deprive employees of the downtown experience.

Noting that Glaxo will provide daily shuttle service between the Navy Yard and Center City, she said: "Downtown is still really accessible."


For previous coverage of the region's commercial real estate market, go to http://go.philly.com/commercial


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or dmastrull@phillynews.com.

 

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