Competition between Jefferson Lab, Brookhaven National Lab heats up for ion collider

Theresa Clift

After a national committee's recommendation to build a $1 billion ion collider Thursday, the competition between Jefferson Lab and a much larger New York lab to win the facility is heating up.

Construction firm W.M. Jordan is building the Tech Center Marketplace, with retail and apartments, and plans to follow it with a research park at the corner of Oyster Point Road and Jefferson Avenue, next to Jefferson Lab.

The developer has gone out of its way to include room for the ion collider in its plans. The city has received three proposals to move the school district's bus maintenance facility to make way for the collider, as well as the research park modeled after Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center.

Securing the land for the collider is especially important because Jeff Lab's competitor, Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island — which is more than five times larger than Jeff Lab — does not need land, Jefferson Lab spokesman John Warren said. If the collider goes there, it would simply be built inside an existing tunnel.

It's unclear whether the research park itself will help Jeff Lab's chances.

"It's hard to say whether the (U.S. Department of Energy) would factor the research park into its decision," Warren said. "Certainly, Jefferson Lab sees the benefit of a research park populated by potential partners. We understand a research park by Brookhaven may be under construction."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January plans to add $65 million to Brookhaven's budget to help bring the collider there, trumping $4.2 million in incentives Gov. Terry McAuliffe pledged last year to bring the collider here.

The city plans to spend $34.8 million to move the bus facility and make other infrastructure improvements to accommodate the research park and potential collider over the next five years – a figure City Manager Jim Bourey has said could change.

Mayor McKinley Price will share more on the city's efforts to support Jefferson Lab's expansion at the State of the City address Tuesday, Bourey said.

"Obviously we're very pleased with the committee's recommendation and we will be doing whatever we can to support Jefferson Lab going forward," Bourey said.

W.M. Jordan President and CEO John Lawson believes the Tech Center development will be successful with or without the collider, he said.

"Obviously we wouldn't have built what we built so far if we didn't think so," Lawson said. "But it would make a big difference."

The retail and apartments under construction now will be filled next year, Lawson said. Meanwhile, the research park is on hold until the firm can secure the land, mostly from the city, its Economic Development Authority and the School Board.

"Everything that has to do with the research park is on land we're trying to acquire," Lawson said. "We're waiting on the public-private proposal we submitted."

All three applications propose moving the bus facility to roughly the same area — between Jefferson Avenue and Turnberry, McManus and Bland boulevards, just west of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. W.M. Jordan owns some of the land in those boundaries under an LLC. The city, its Industrial Development Authority and the Peninsula Airport Commission also own parcels there.

The financial details of the proposals have not yet been made public, but Lawson has said acquiring the land for the research park is held up until the firm hears back about the proposal.

W.M. Jordan is planning to build five office buildings on the 33 acres where the bus facility now sits.

The research park office buildings will be built to suit the tenants, Lawson said. The decision on whether the collider comes to Newport News could affect who those tenants are.

The city has not yet selected a proposal. A decision will likely be made in December and approved by council in January, Bourey said.

The city still may decide not to select any proposal, although it likely will, Bourey said. But even if it doesn't choose one, the bus facility will definitely be moved.

Clift can be reached by phone at 757-247-7870.

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