Jefferson Lab winning ion collider would propel Tech Center research park

Theresa Clift
Newport News will move bus facility to make way for new Jeff Lab facility, research park

NEWPORT NEWS — Even before Thursday's announcement that a committee of scientists had endorsed the construction of a $1 billion ion collider, the city of Newport News and the developer of the Tech Center had high hopes not only that it would be built but also that it would be built in Newport News instead of New York.

The collider has been included in planning for the Tech Center mixed-use development — at Jefferson Avenue and Oyster Point Road adjacent to Jefferson Lab — from the outset.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe was enlisted as a booster, and this year managed to secure $4 million from state lawmakers for the project.

"Folks, our sole competition for the ion collider project is the state of New York, and we simply cannot allow those New Yorkers to come down here to Virginia and take our collider project," McAuliffe said in his State of the Commonwealth address earlier this year.

Brian Coy, the governor's communications manager, expanded on that afterward, saying, "The governor is committed to doing whatever it takes to bring this important project to Virginia where it belongs."

Meanwhile, Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island also wants the facility. The New York lab is more than five times the size of Jefferson Lab and already has a place to put the collider.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in January plans to add $65 million to Brookhaven's budget to help bring the collider there, easily trumping McAuliffe's $4 million.

But Newport News has also been positioning itself to be a serious contender, and will continue to do so as the competition heats up.

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

Construction firm W.M. Jordan, which is building the Tech Center Marketplace near the lab, plans to follow the development with a research park modeled after Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center.

The city plans to spend an estimated $34.8 million to move the school division's bus facility and on infrastructure improvements for the research park over the next five years.

The city is reviewing three proposals, including one from W.M. Jordan, from firms to enter into agreements under the Public-Private Education Infrastructure Act to move the school district's bus facility to make way for the collider and research park.

Even if the city does not choose any one of the proposals, the city will definitely move the bus facility, Bourey said.

The ion collider facility would bring an estimated $708 million in spending and 4,974 jobs to the commonwealth during the seven to 10 years of construction. Of that, $557 million in spending and 4,050 jobs would be in Hampton Roads alone.

About 60 full-time jobs would be created at Jefferson Lab, helping to fill the nearby apartments that are on the way, and giving the fledgling shopping center a boost.

The state that wins the collider will also become a global leader in high-energy physics.

It will take up to another four years for the Department of Energy to approve the collider and decide where to build it.

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," Jefferson Lab spokesman John 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."

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.

City staff will likely select a proposal in December, which the council will consider in January, Bourey said.

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

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