Newport News promises 16 acres of land for ion collider project

Tech Center research park construction to begin next year

If the U.S. Department of Energy chooses Jefferson Lab for a $1 billion ion collider, Newport News officially has a place to put it, Mayor McKinley Price announced during his State of the City address Tuesday.

City leaders hope its promise to donate about 16 acres of city land to the lab if needed will help Jefferson Lab win the facility over its much larger New York competitor.

Last week, a scientific panel recommended the DOE build an ion collider as its next major physics project.

“This is a huge step forward in the ultimate prize of building an ion collider at Jefferson Lab,” Price said during his speech. “The lab will now be in competition for the project.”

If the DOE chooses Jefferson Lab for the collider — a decision that could take up to four years — the city and School Board would donate land now partly occupied by the school division’s bus facility, Price said. That would give Jefferson Lab enough land to house the collider, which would be built underground adjacent to its Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility off of Jefferson Avenue.

According to a press release issued by the governor’s office Tuesday, a memorandum of understanding for the land transfer has been signed by City Manager Jim Bourey and Jerry Draayer — president and CEO of Southeastern Universities Research Association, the majority partner of Jefferson Science Associates, which manages the lab for the Department of Energy. 

“I applaud Newport News and the lab’s contractor for working out this important agreement,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in the release. “I was glad that my administration could play a role in helping broker an important step toward landing such a big new investment and science facility for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

In addition, construction of the neighboring Tech Center Corporate Research Park will begin next year, Price announced. Tech Center developer W.M. Jordan will soon purchase a 3.2-acre parcel of wooded state-owned land between the city’s Applied Research Center building and the school bus facility to start building the first research park building, Price said.

“This is powerful,” the mayor said.

A separate agreement has been reached between the state, SURA and the College of William and Mary Foundation, which controls the parcel, to sell the land to W.M. Jordan for the first building, Bourey said.

The purchase price is being worked out and will not be disclosed until after the purchase, Bourey said.

It’s one of the first steps to kick off the planned 100-acre research park near Jefferson Lab modeled after Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center. Already under construction is the Tech Center Marketplace at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Oyster Point Road.

The city, School Board and Industrial Development Authority also plan to sell roughly an additional 63 acres in the area to W.M. Jordan for the research park. A developer’s agreement is in the works for that land and should be finished in the next few months, Bourey said.

City officials hope the moves will improve the city’s chances of winning the highly coveted collider, which would bring an estimated 4,070 jobs and $557 million in spending to Hampton Roads during the seven to 10 years of its construction and 60 new full-time jobs to Jefferson Lab.

Jefferson Lab is competing with Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, more than five times its size. The New York lab already has a place to put the collider and its governor pledged to add $65 million to Brookhaven’s budget to help bring the collider there, easily trumping the $4 million that McAuliffe and the General Assembly approved to help Jefferson Lab.

The city plans to spend $34.8 million over the next five years to move the bus facility and on infrastructure improvements for the research park, mainly extending Hogan Drive.

City officials are reviewing three proposals, including one from W.M. Jordan, under the Public-Private Education Infrastructure Act to move the bus facility.

City staff will likely select a proposal in December, which the council will consider in January, Bourey said. But even if the city does not choose any of the proposals, the city will definitely move the bus facility, he said.

Jefferson Lab spokesman John Warren has said it’s hard to determine whether the research park will help the lab’s chances of winning the collider, but having the land secured is “certainly an important piece of the equation.”

During his speech to the sold-out room of about 600, the mayor also touted the city’s programs to decrease youth and gang violence and its action to bring a grocery store to the Southeast Community food desert, which is under construction now.

“The City Council is steadfast in its efforts to return the Southeast Community to a vibrant center of neighborhood services, retail, housing and office space it once was,” said Price, who lives in the Southeast.

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

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