Developer envisions alternative energy park that could create 10,000 jobs

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The developer who plans to purchase the former Ford Motor Co. truck plant in Norfolk outlined his vision Thursday for an alternative energy park that he says could eventually create as many as 10,000 jobs.

Jim Jacoby, chairman of Atlanta-based Jacoby Group, plans to close on the 101-acre Ford site by the end of the year. In a gathering at the Norfolk Airport Hilton sponsored by the Hampton Roads Association of Commercial Real Estate, he told about 200 people that the centrally located, mid-Atlantic site would lend itself to the makers of electric cargo vans, electric cars, hybrid diesel automobiles and diesel buses.  “If there was a storm or a hurricane, people could just plug in the buses,” Jacoby said.

The site also would make a good staging place for assembly parts for off-shore wind, an industry some Hampton Roads business leaders would like to see get off the ground.

Pressed about possible tenants, Jacoby said no one has signed on yet. “I’m going to get them here. We just need to close on the deal.”  Indiana-based Bright Automotive, developer of the IDEA — the world’s first plug-in, hybrid electric car — has expressed an interested in locating a facility in Virginia, he added. 

After combing the country and looking at other closed automotive plants, Jacoby said his company decided Norfolk was the best site for a new industrial park for green energy users. “In Norfolk you have a lot of rail and a seaport,” he said,” as well as a “vibrant business community.”

Jacoby plans to keep the site’s 662,000-square-foot body shop, although it would undergo rehab. “We want to put solar on the roof and put in a solar cover on an adjoining landfill.” It would take about two years to demolish the other buildings on the site and to level it for development. “This is an infill project, so we’re talking about a long-term build out.”  Jacoby said he is working with CB Richard Ellis in Hampton Roads to develop the project, which is being marketed as the Virginia Renaissance Center.

If his company can attract even a single alternative-car manufacturer, he said the first phase could create 1,100 jobs. “Totally, I think we’re looking at 10,000 jobs with total build out,” he said.

Due to tight credit markets, Jacoby said in an interview that the project would be done as a public-private partnership. He plans to seek incentives both locally and from the state of Virginia.

His company has done other brown field projects including Atlantic Station, a 138-acre, mixed-use project built on a former steel mill site in mid-town Atlanta.  In 2008, Jacoby Group purchased a former Ford automotive plant site in Hapeville, Ga., less than a mile from Atlanta International Airport. The 130-acre site is being redeveloped into a $1.5 billion, 6.5 million-square-foot mixed use project that will include offices, a hotel, conference center, retail and parking.

Jacoby told the audience that he got his start in the 1970s, as a co-partner developing Wal-Marts. “It used to be with Wal-Mart developments that lenders were standing in line,” he recalled. Today, he tends to structure developments as private/public partnerships, so the company can get tax incentives for infrastructure and other amenities.  “That’s what it takes to make it work in this market.”

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