Wexford Science & Technology LLC has hired longtime Philadelphia economic-development leader John Grady to oversee its Northeast U.S. operations and attract life-science and technology tenants nationwide, a potentially valuable new asset for the development firm as it continues to grow its already substantial presence in the city.
Grady will step down from his role as president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., a nonprofit partnership between the city government and the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia, after his successor is announced in January, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said Wednesday.
Wexford concentrates on life-science and university-affiliated projects, such as its uCity Square complex in West Philadelphia. Grady will join the Baltimore-based firm as senior vice president and Northeast region executive. Joseph Reagan, who now holds that position, will take on a new executive vice president role overseeing development nationally but will remain in Philadelphia.
Grady will bring to the role a deep understanding of — and meaningful connections within — the city’s public agencies and private development interests that he worked with on the job.
“We’re looking at his experience working at PIDC in attracting companies to the Philadelphia market,” Reagan said of Grady. “It seems a logical expansion of his skills doing that at PIDC to be doing that" for Wexford projects.
Grady joined PIDC in 1998 to lead the acquisition and development of closed military bases throughout South Philadelphia and became the agency’s president in 2011.
Since then, he has been instrumental in nearly every major commercial-development initiative pursued by the city, from the transformation of the Navy Yard into a growing business park that will soon host its first full-time residents, to the rebirth of the Gallery at Market East shopping mall as Fashion District Philadelphia, to Philadelphia’s bid to host Amazon.com Inc.'s second headquarters.
Under Grady’s watch, PIDC also bolstered its business lending to make more than 500 loans of more than $150 million over the last seven years in nearly all the city’s zip codes, while building a portfolio of more than 60 community-development projects, including health clinics, schools, and neighborhood retail centers, totaling more than $600 million in investment, the mayor’s office said.
“John Grady has served PIDC and our city with passion, skill, and integrity for more than two decades as a forceful advocate for growth throughout all neighborhoods of Philadelphia," Kenney said in a statement. “We will miss his commitment and dedication but look forward to working with him in the next phase of his career with Wexford.”
Grady said in the news release that “it has been a privilege and an honor to serve Philadelphia and the city-chamber partnership.”
Grady will join Wexford three years after the development firm became a private entity spun off from Blackstone Group-affiliated BioMed Realty L.P. As Northeast executive, he will oversee projects in Pittsburgh, Hershey, and Providence, R.I., in addition to the uCity Square office-and-residential district.
uCity Square is slated to eventually encompass 6.5 million square feet of retail, residential, office, and lab space on 27 acres of existing buildings and vacant land owned by Wexford and the nonprofit University City Science Center. The project’s first new office building, 3675 Market St., opened late last year.
James Cuorato, a former city commerce director who is now president of the Independence Visitors Center, said Grady’s experience coordinating projects between government agencies and private businesses, often involving complex public financing mechanisms, was likely a big selling point for Wexford.
To work with the sort of institutions that Wexford targets, “you need a good perspective on the private sector, and you also have to be politically savvy,” Cuorato said. “And John has all those qualities.”
Grady’s move echoes that of William P. Hankowsky, who stepped down from leading PIDC in the mid-2000s to become the chief executive of the developer Liberty Property Trust.
After Hankowsky left PIDC to run Liberty, the agency chose the company — in a process overseen by Grady — to be the main developer of the Navy Yard’s central business enclave. It also went on to develop the city’s two tallest skyscrapers for Comcast Corp.
“That’s a direct analogy: public sector to private sector,” Philadelphia commercial property consultant Bill Luff of CRE Visions LLC said of the Hankowsky comparison.
While government connections have not been a deciding factor in determining private-development partners — at least not in recent decades — Grady’s reputation for getting things done for Philadelphia at PIDC could tip the scale in Wexford’s favor on projects where the city has a say, Luff said.
“Totally even playing field, everything scored the same, and one person you’ve known for 20 years has done a marvelous job: 99 out of 100 people would make the same decision,” he said.