Yet despite its infusion of small entrepreneurs, Kearny Point is not showing its larger tenants the door.
“We want a mix,” Mr. Nislick said. “Small tenants bring more energy.”
Hugo Neu picked up the $26 million tab for the second major project at Kearny Point, Building 197, a 197,000-square-foot development to open next year.
Mr. Nislick said he was also talking to lenders about helping fund the repurposing of a third site, a towering 150,000-square-foot column-lined structure where ship boilers were made, with a ceiling 62 feet high.
As housing nibbles away at manufacturing zones and the military has less demand for an armada, former naval facilities have become tempting targets for redevelopment, even if they are sometimes in out-of-the-way locations.
For instance, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of six federal yards established around the end of the 18th century to fortify a national navy, has become a popular industrial park. The 300-acre site, now owned by the city after closing in 1966, offers a mix of tenants akin to Kearny Point: a whiskey distiller, a glass engraver and a furniture maker, but also a cement company and even traditional dry docks, where tugboats are repaired.
Once employing about 70,000, the yard has about 7,000 workers today.
Philadelphia’s Navy Yard, a 1,200-acre former base that closed in the mid-1990s, is home to 165 companies — most of them with big footprints — that employ more than 13,500 people, a spokeswoman said. The Navy retains 200 acres for storage and maintenance of old ships, like the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, as well as research.
And in the Charlestown section of Boston, another yard was redeveloped to provide a home for the MGH Institute of Health Professions, a graduate school founded by Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as a section of a national park.
Three other federally owned naval yards — in Kittery, Me.; Portsmouth, Va.; and Washington — have more traditional maritime uses.
“One of the great things about the redevelopment of the Navy yards is that there’s been so much preservation of the historic character,” said Andrew Gustafson, who has led tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard since 2010. “The history’s a selling point. It makes the place unique and attractive.”
A visit helps convey the vastness of Kearny’s shipbuilding operation, which at its peak during World War II churned out a finished ship every six days courtesy of 35,000 employees, according to Hugo Neu.
The first ship, for World War I, was the Liberty II, which launched in 1918 and hauled horses to France, according to historical accounts from the Navy. But perhaps the best-known Kearney vessel was the Juneau, a light cruiser that slipped into the Hackensack in 1941 and about a year later, after being struck by Japanese torpedoes, sank in the South Pacific during the Battle of Guadalcanal. Among the victims were five brothers from Iowa with the last name Sullivan, whose story inspired a plot point in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” Mr. Gustafson said.
Later, scores of ships were also dismantled at the site, like the Essex, an aircraft carrier that earned 17 battle stars for its service in World War II and the Korean War. In 1975, Hugo Neu workers chopped up the 28,200-ton giant and sold the pieces for scrap.
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