S.J. Collins Enterprises

Newport News Tech Center part of $250M development

By Lydia Wheeler
lydia.wheeler@insidebiz.com

A $250 million research, retail, residential and commercial campus has been proposed for a prime plot in Newport News.

Newport News-based W.M. Jordan Co. has partnered with the Georgia-based retail developer S. J. Collins Enterprises, Virginia Tech and the city of Newport News to build a Tech Center on 43 acres next to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility – another partner better known as Jefferson Lab – on the corner of Oyster Point Road and Jefferson Avenue.

W.M. Jordan purchased the vacant piece of property in 2010 from the College of William and Mary Foundation for $8 million and now plans to privately fund a development that includes 300,000 square feet of retail space, 350,000 square feet of multifamily residential space and 150,000 square feet of commercial office space and up to 600,000 square feet of corporate research center buildings.

“I had been looking at the property for quite some time,” said John Lawson, president and CEO of W.M. Jordan. “It’s a premier piece of property on the Peninsula.”

After hearing about the nuclear physics research facility’s plan to expand and add an accelerator, Lawson said it occurred to him, as past rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, to partner with the Virginia Tech Foundation.

The foundation owns the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a nationally recognized high-technology research and development park, in Blacksburg.

The Association of University Research Parks named it 2010’s most outstanding research park in the United States. The first building on the campus, which is now home to 31 buildings totalling 1 million square feet, was completed in 1988. On the 230-acre campus there are 152 companies and 2,700 employees.
The goal in Newport News is to mimic Virginia Tech’s facility, but incorporate additional space where people can live, eat, shop and exercise.

With neighboring city-owned land, the campus will encompass 100 acres.

The first phase, expected to start Oct. 1, will cost $100 million in construction and consist of 12 retail buildings, three office buildings, three high-end multifamily apartment buildings and a fitness center, all of which, Lawson said, should be completed in 18 to 24 months.

Though the project has not yet been approved, Lawson has leases signed on 80 percent of the retail space and Whole Foods is among the line-up. The organic grocer, which announced plans in February to have S.J. Collins develop its second Hampton Roads store in Newport News, has signed a lease with W. M. Jordan.

“They are talking about a new concept, a jumbo store, and it looks like we’ll be one of the first ones,” Lawson said.

Leases have been signed, but Lawson would not release the names of any other retailers.

The second phase is the corporate research center part of the project. Though expected to begin simultaneously with the first phase, the buildings will be market-driven and built-to-suit.

“We could have 15 buildings or 20 buildings,” Lawson said. “Phase I will take 18 to 24 months, but Phase II could take five to 10 years.”

With both phases, Lawson plans to keep the building between two and four stories.

The seven-story Applied Research Center that is owned by the city’s Economic Development Authority and located at 12050 Jefferson Ave. will anchor the corporate research center. But there are vacancies that need to be filled first.

When Jefferson Lab expanded, Economic Development Director Florence Kingston said a number of tenants moved out of the Applied Research Center and into a new Jefferson Lab building, leaving about 30 percent of the city’s building vacant.

Once fully leased, construction can begin on additional buildings.

“This will create a place where companies can come to commercialize the technologies that come out of Jefferson Lab,” Kingston said of the Tech Center Corporate Research Center. “It’s the type of future development we are seeking.”

Before the project can move forward, the city has to approve W.M. Jordan’s application to change the zoning from research and development to mixed-use. The project’s rezoning application will be go before the city planning commission in July. If approved, the city will vote on the project in August.

“We feel confident that the zoning will be approved,” Lawson said. “Most of the land is currently off the tax rolls ... We’re talking a $250 million total private investment with no public assistance.”