One of the advocates of extending the Broad Street Subway into the Navy Yard says he’s gotten assurances from the elected officials that there would be support — and money — for the project.
John J. Dougherty, business manager of Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he has met with elected officials from Washington, D.C., to Harrisburg in an effort to gain political support and funding to extend the SEPTA subway line.
Why is a union leader worried about economic development?
“Jobs,” said Dougherty. “Would I like to see more lights on on my block and more families with young kids? Yes, but it’s about jobs.”
By jobs, he means construction jobs — and that would certainly benefit the electricians’ union Local 98, which has 5,000 members. But it could also mean more jobs created at the Navy Yard.
Earlier this month, I wrote about an effort gaining momentum to add 1.5 miles to the Broad Street subway line, extending it from Pattison Station into the Navy Yard.
In less than a decade since the Navy Yard was decommissioned, it has generated 11,000 private-sector jobs. It is home to the headquarters of Urban Outfitters (NASDAQ: URBN), the U.S. headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline, the principal baking operations for Tastykake and 140 other businesses.
Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., which has overseen management of the Navy Yard since it was handed over by the U.S. Navy, estimates the business park could have 20,000 workers by 2022. Dougherty says there’s capacity for 30,000 employees.
If related plans for housing development at the Navy Yard come to fruition, demands for convenient transportation could be even more crucial.
Naturally, there are obstacles to any such plan.
A 2008 study commissioned by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission estimated that extending the line could cost $370 million.
Today, the figure might be closer to $800 million to $1 billion, according to various estimates.
So how did one of the area’s most powerful labor leaders and Democratic party fundraisers get involved in the project?
Dougherty, who is a former chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, sees economic development as his primary mission — and economic development at the Navy Yard is just one area on his list of priorities.
This week Jeffrey J. Kanne, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based National Real Estate Advisors, announced plans for a $500 million redevelopment of the 1100 block of Market Street. The deal, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer, would not have happened without Dougherty.
“Every time there was a problem, I’d hop on the train and went down to D.C.” to meet with Kanne, Dougherty said this week from Local 98 headquarters at 1701 Spring Garden. “I’d take them to lunch and tell them about everything else going on here.”
At our meeting, Dougherty, whose afternoon schedule included meetings with Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, was surrounded by phones that were constantly beeping and ringing. But he said face-to-face contact is still crucial to getting deals done.
“People have to see you to connect with you,” he said.
Dougherty, 52, took over management of Local 98 in 1993, when he says it was near bankruptcy. It now has 5,000 members. Its retirement fund has $1 billion under management. Its yearly health insurance premium to Blue Cross is $70 million a year, he said.
“People think, ‘Oh, what do they know about business?’ But I’d say that’s a pretty big business,” he said.
Dougherty, who lives in the city’s Pennsport neighborhood and lost to Larry Farnese in a race for Vince Fumo’s state Senate seat in 2007, said the expectation is that union leaders are “fat slobs with a stogie and a hat on backwards.”
“But look at me: I’m wearing powder-blue socks,” said Dougherty, who was also dressed in a crisp white dress shirt and pinstriped slacks.
He has taken some unorthodox positions on issues. He has long urged lawmakers to allocate more money for infrastructure upgrades, which he freely admits would help his union membership. He has been a longtime proponent of privatization and downsizing at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which did in fact turn to privatization last year.
He said he opposes the city’s business-privilege tax, which he says keeps companies from investing in Philadelphia.
“People look at other cities and they say the problem is the cost of labor [here]. It’s not the cost of labor. It’s that there’s no urgency for occupancy,” he said. “If there was no business privilege tax, [commercial landlords] could charge $5 to $15 more a square foot in rent.”
And that gets back to economic development, which in turn means getting issues and projects in front of the right audience.
With the Broad Street Subway extension, Dougherty used the same strategy for face-to-face meetings he used on Market East.
“We’ve been pushing the Navy Yard. We hired a full-time lobbyist, Mike Oscar, to keep in tune with federal issues,” he said.
A year ago, he started pushing the Navy Yard subway issue — which had been largely dormant since the study came out in 2008, shortly before the recession hit.
With other economic development and labor leaders, Dougherty made several treks to Washington to meet with elected officials from both sides of the aisle: Sen. Casey (Dem.), Sen. Pat Toomey (Rep.), Rep. Bob Brady (Dem.-1st District), Rep. Bill Schuster (Rep.-9th District).
The objective was to get political backing and assurances that they’d help in finding funding for the Broad Street line extension.
Last fall he went to Gov. Tom Corbett, who was in the middle of hammering out the transportation funding plan, to get assurances that funding would be there when the time comes. He won’t say how much in funding commitment he has received so far.
“I said the same thing to everyone: It’s a high priority. We need a subway into the Navy Yard. We have Urban Outfitters there. We have other businesses there. But there’s room for 20,000 more [employees]. We need the added transportation. With transportation, we will fill every house in South Philly and Point Breeze. It’s a hidden jewel.”
At the urging of Sen. Casey, a meeting with Navy Yard stakeholders was held in January.
Dougherty said a follow up meeting is being worked out.
“[The subway plan] is closer to reality than a ‘vision’ or a ‘dream,’” he said. “$800 million would get you a good subway. All these transactions are time right to keep Philadelphia very fluid in a world that’s increasingly connected.”
Peter Van Allen covers hospitality, marketing and retail.