Industries Commercial Real Estate

W. M. Jordan proposes $250 million project for Newport News with research component.

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Print this page By Paula C. Squires

W. M. Jordan Co. in Newport News has proposed a $250 million mixed-use project for its hometown that would bring a new research center to a prime piece of land adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

The federal research and testing agency, known as Jefferson Lab, is located at the intersection of Oyster Point Road and Jefferson Avenue. John Lawson, CEO of W.M. Jordan, said in an interview that he purchased a vacant, wooded 43-acre tract of land across the street from Jefferson Lab in 2010 from the College of William and Mary for $8 million, with the thought of supporting the expansion of the lab, a major employer in Newport News.

“I knew they needed additional land to expand,” he said in an interview. However, the federal government doesn’t react as quickly as private business can. “Their timeline was longer than what I wanted,” said Lawson. So, he started thinking that the site — at a prime location off Interview 64 — could support a major project that would play off the synergy of an existing research facility while adding shopping, multi-family housing and new commercial space.

The result is that Lawson has partnered with the Virginia Tech Foundation (which owns and operates the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg), the city of Newport News and S. J. Collins Enterprises, a retail developer based in Georgia, on the mixed-use project.

It proposes 300,000 square feet of retail space, 350,000 square feet of multifamily residential, 150,000 square feet of commercial office space and up to 600,000 square feet of corporate research center buildings.

Lawson, an alumni of Tech and a former rector of the school’s Board of Visitors, said the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center has agreed to run the new corporate research center. “They will have an office in the center and will be working with entrepreneurs and the Jefferson Lab to take science discovered at the lab and convert it into applied, practical uses. The center would be involved in new patents and new start ups,” he said. While the Virginia Tech Foundation would operate the center, Lawson said his company would own the buildings.

Joe Meredith, president of Tech's CRC, said the project would expand Tech's presence on the peninsula. "This park has been very successful," he said referring to the 150 companies in 30 buildings in the Blacksburg center, "and we think this park can also be successful. We're excited about the possibility of doing it again." To gauge public interest in the Newport News location, Meredith noted that the CRC has created a Website, where, people can go to learn more about the proposed center and take a survey.

In another departure for a major mixed-use project, Lawson said W.M. Jordan will privately finance the project, rather than seek financial help from public entities as other new mixed-use projects, including the Town Center of Virginia Beach, have done. “If I had gone to the city and asked them, they probably would have tried to help, but I can do this,” Lawson said. He does plan to work with the city in purchasing additional land, contiguous to the 43-acre site.

W. M. Jordan has filed an application with Newport News to rezone that parcel from research and development to mixed use. The application goes before the city’s planning commission in July and is scheduled to go before the City Council in August.

Lawson is confident of approval and plans to begin construction on the project’s first phase in October. “When someone wants to put a $250 million investment on the tax rolls. This is all taxable real estate, and it would generate sales taxes from food and beverage. It would be a big job creator,” he said, estimating that construction alone would create 200 to 300 jobs.

While he is yet to receive approval, Lawson says he already has signed leases on 80 percent of the retail space with Whole Foods in the line-up. He wouldn’t reveal the names of the other tenants, except to say that many are new national players that would be making a first-time appearance in Newport News.

The first phase of development would total about $100 million in construction. It would include 12 retail buildings, three office buildings and three apartment buildings, plus a fitness center. These buildings would take about 18 to 24 months to complete, Lawson said.

The corporate research center would come in the second phase, he added. He’s expecting 15 or 20 buildings, with phase two taking anywhere from five to 10 years to build. The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center could get started in space that’s available now in an existing applied research center, Lawson said.

The mixed-use center would be a signature project for his construction company. “When all is said and done, your measure as a business is what have you done to improve the quality of life in your community,” he said.

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