Changing the Landscape of Philadelphia

Since 1958, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) has been living up to its motto of “driving growth to every corner of Philadelphia.” And since 2011, PIDC’s president, John Grady, ’89, has been in the driver’s seat.

grady_johnWhile some Philadelphians may not be familiar with the name PIDC, they are certainly familiar with its work. Among its most notable projects, the not-for-profit corporation has transformed Center City’s 13th Street and Fishtown’s Frankford Avenue, financed countless nonprofits and businesses, and structured public-private partnerships to redevelop major pieces of Philadelphia real estate. That last point, of course, calls to mind the crown jewel of PIDC’s many accomplishments in the city—the complete reimagining of The Navy Yard.

Growing up in the city’s East Oak Lane section, Grady never imagined he would one day help to literally change the landscape of Philadelphia. His strong interest in the city and public service developed early in life, along with his affinity for La Salle. His father, John “Jack” Grady, was a stronghold in the Economics Department and a legend in the University’s Honors Program, which he ran for nearly 40 years after playing an integral role in its establishment. Jack instilled an early love of La Salle in Grady and his four siblings—Kelley, ’85, Kristine, ’87, Brian, ’90, and Helene, ’93.

While earning his bachelor’s degree in economics, Grady did not have his sights on eventually being the president of a company like PIDC. However, an ethics course he took during his junior year had a lasting impact on his career choices. “I knew I had a career interest in public service,” Grady said. “Both of my parents were teachers, and while I enjoyed the academic challenge of all my other classes, this ethics class taught me about the importance work plays in sustaining cities, neighborhoods, and families, and how everything really comes full circle.”

“The Navy Yard used to be about keeping people out, but now we want to invite them in.” —John Grady, ’89

After graduating from La Salle, Grady was offered the chance to work on the development of the Camden waterfront. “It was supposed to be for the summer, but I ended up staying for nearly 10 years,” Grady said. By the time he was done, he had earned his master’s degree in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania and risen to Executive Vice President of Cooper’s Ferry Development Association. In 1998, he was asked to join the team at PIDC specifically to work on The Navy Yard.

pidc-logo-color“I had worked with them on a number of projects already, and I was ready to return to Philly,” Grady said. “PIDC always had great people committed to building public-private partnerships that attract investment, development, and job growth throughout the city, so it seemed like the right fit.”

Grady took charge of the massive project when he was just 31 years old. His experience developing Camden’s waterfront proved to be invaluable in his approach to The Navy Yard project. “I had never even been to The Navy Yard before I started at PIDC,” Grady said. “It was this enormous slate that had basically become a ghost town in search of a new purpose.”

Finding that purpose proved challenging for Grady and his team, whom he describes as talented and motivated. “There were lots of choices about what kind of place The Navy Yard could be. Moves from the city to suburbs were on the rise in the late 80s and early 90s, and we could have built subdivision housing or a suburban industrial park,” Grady said. “But that isn’t what The Navy Yard was. It was predominantly an urban place, and we wanted to create a place of work, production, and innovation true to its history.”

Nearly 15 years later, the Navy Yard has become the bustling center of industry Grady knew it could be. In addition to serving as Urban Outfitters’ headquarters, other powerhouses like GlaxoSmithKline and Tasty Baking Company also call the Navy Yard’s 1,200-acre waterfront campus home. Small businesses are finding their way there as well.

“We try to be responsive to economic cycles, lead that activity, develop the vision, and build partnerships with people who share that vision,” Grady said. “The Navy Yard used to be about keeping people out, but now we want to invite them in.”