Approval sought for first office building at Tech Center

Dave Ress
Contact Reporterdress@dailypress.com
A three-story building may be the first of several in the Tech Center Research Park.

The first office building at Oyster Point's Tech Center Research Park – and the pattern it will set for the rest of the park — comes before the Newport News City Council for approval Tuesday, even though most of the land for the $450 million project isn't yet nailed down.

The council is scheduled to vote on the first phase of a master development plan for the research park, clearing the way for developer W.M. Jordan Co. to build a three-story, 80,000-square-foot building behind the Applied Research Center.

"You can't do the rest until you do the first," said John Lawson, W.M. Jordan's president and chief executive officer.

He said if the council approves the first phase, it clears the way for the rest of a master development plan.

City Manager Jim Bourey said the first phase will set the tone for the rest of the 80-acre development, even for the parts that are still in the hands of the school system.

"There are users who really want to move in," Bourey said. "To get that done is why this is a priority."

Lawson said he has tenants lined up but they can't sign leases for a building that doesn't exist.

The city's zoning ordinance says development in an area zoned as an office/research and development district, as is the case for the 3.3 acres where Lawson wants to build, must be done in accordance with a master development plan.

That plan sets guidelines for how far from roadways or walkways buildings will be placed and how they will look, as well as parking, landscaping and signs.

It calls for buildings to be no more than 15 feet from rights of way, with facades of masonry and metal in earth tones and simple geometric shapes, similar to the ARC building. Parking lots will be behind buildings, and there will be plants and trees along roads and walkways.

The plan also shows four three-story office buildings and one four-story building grouped around a central green on what is now the school systems' Service Center for Operations and Technology, or SCOT center. There would be two more three-story buildings between that cluster and Canon Boulevard and one four-story building on Oyster Point Rd.

School and city officials have not yet reached an agreement on a replacement for the SCOT center. That's needed to clear the way for the school system to sell that land to the city for the Tech Center project.

School Board Chairman Jeff Stodghill said school officials are concerned that the city's proposal for a new facility on land near the airport owned by the city, its Industrial Development Authority and W.M. Jordan doesn't have enough room for expansion, for the liquefied petroleum gas fueling station it plans to install for new school buses or for parking.

"It doesn't bother me that the City Council would be approving a master development plan, but from a community standpoint, adopting a master plan without working out the details of acquiring property might be questionable," he said. "But the School Board doesn't want to stand in the way of development."

Stodghill said the School Board told the city months ago what it needs in a replacement facility.

"This isn't rocket science," he said. "I don't understand what is taking so long."

The first building would not be on SCOT property.

Its parking lot would be adjacent to the proposed track of the $1 billion ion collider Jefferson Lab hopes the U.S. Energy Department will install. Lawson said new building and lot won't interfere with that plan.

W.M. Jordan had hoped to break ground on the building last year.

Bourey said acquiring the land was a challenge because it involved negotiating with several government and academic entities with interests in the parcel, including the state, the Department of Energy the Southeastern Universities Research Association, the 60-university consortium that operates Jefferson Lab.

He said he hopes the new building will be open sometime next year.

Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535.

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