African-American firm part of $2.6B plan to develop Philly Navy Yard

The developer behind the project says it’s an opportunity for Black Philadelphians to build wealth, where they haven’t been able to before

By: - March 17, 2022 10:16 am

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — Ensemble/Mosaic, a joint venture of Ensemble Real Estate Investments, Mosaic Development Partners and Oxford Property Group on Tuesday broke ground a 137,000-square-foot, research and development laboratory at the Navy Yard, a sort of incubator for small gene and cell therapy firms.

“The beauty of the relationship that we built is something that we hope could be a model not just for our future developments going forward, but really the way people can think about development, particularly in a city that is majority people of color,” said Greg Reaves, Mosaic founder and co-owner. “This has been a place where we have spent many years working where people of color haven’t had opportunities to build wealth like this. We’re not just talking about construction jobs we are talking about every element.”

Mosaic is minority-owned firm based in Philadelphia.

The building at 1201 Normandy Place will allow small gene and cell therapy companies to get space in the Navy Yard’s thriving life science communities.

Some of those companies include: Iovance Biotherapeutics, Adaptimmune Therapeutics PLC, WuXi Advanced Therapies, Coriell Life Sciences and Vinta Bio, Inc. The Navy Yard is also regional headquarters for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which connects technology firms, entrepreneurs and investors.

“There are cancer fighting therapies being put in people’s bodies here every single day,” Mark Seltzer, Ensemble senior vice president, development. “The goal was to be the best lab building in the region. The design mimics a gene sequence.”

Kam Babaoff, Ensemble co-founder and chairman, said this first life science building, is “part of phase I of a $500 million endeavor that includes residential, hotel, life science building and a very large garage in the back. I am actually thrilled to be here and seeing this vision of PIDC and Liberty and for us to continue this amazing work.”

In 2020, Ensemble/Mosaic announced its $2.6 billion development plan to further establish the Navy Yard as a vibrant and inclusive, mixed-use community. In its agreement with Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which manages The Navy Yard and oversees development there, the joint venture’s plans call for the development of 3,000 residential units and more than three million square-feet of life science manufacturing, R&D, hotel and retail space, when completed.

According to Babaoff, the plan seeks to make the Navy Yard a place, “where people can come, live, work and play.” In 2012, Ensemble developed the Courtyard Marriott at the Navy Yard.

“Working with Ensemble has actually incredibly easy to build programs, practices and relationships and build on that, (diversity)” Reaves said. “We assembled multiple teams of significant diversity. What matters is not only what we are building, but who are building it with.”

Executives from all three companies thanked the offices of PIDC and City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the 2nd District that includes Center City and parts of South Philadelphia, where the Navy Yard is located.

“This is a big milestone for the Navy Yard, Ensemble/Mosaic, Oxford and PIDC that will create a landscape for lifesaving work and job opportunities for all Philadelphians,” said Kate McNamara, PIDC senior vice president. “We’re at an important intersection of what the city needs and what will benefit the world and it’s an exciting moment.”

According to Johnson in 2010, the Navy Yard was threatened with closure.

“Any time I have an opportunity to come back to the Navy Yard and participate in a groundbreaking it’s truly an honorable experience,” he said. “We are making sure that we are addressing the issue of diversity and inclusion here in the city of Philadelphia. I expect and demand a significant amount of diversity and inclusion in every aspect of significant developments.”

Nu Suwankosai, head of credit investments at Oxford Property, said: “We share your conviction here. We believe that this is more than just the expansion of a business district. As a former Navy man myself, it gives we great pride to stand next to you and be part of the development of a former Navy icon.”

A spokesperson for HRS management issued a statement on its investment in Ensemble/Mosaic.

“On behalf of Josh Harris, managing partner of the 76ers, and HRS Management, we’re proud to support Ensemble/Mosaic and their innovative work to expand equitable development across our communities. The Navy Yard is a critical component of that work and today’s groundbreaking represents a significant milestone for what will be a vibrant, mixed-use community where all Philadelphians can live, work, and play. We look forward to continuing to partner with Ensemble/Mosaic to create sustainable jobs, economic opportunity and long-term success for generations to come.”

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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