Virginia Tech Innovation Campus relocates to 65-acre site near Potomac Yard Metro

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A rendering of the future Virginia Tech Innovation Campus. (Rendering: Virginia Tech)
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By Missy Schrott | mschrott@alextimes.com

The Virginia Tech Innovation Campus coming to Alexandria will be located on a much larger site than the one announced last fall, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands announced Monday morning.

The campus will now be located in Potomac Yard on the east side of Route 1, adjacent to the planned Potomac Yard Metro Station. As part of a 65-acre mixed-use development district, it will be twice the size of the original parcel of land, according to a news release.

Virginia Tech, city and state leaders announced in November that the university planned to build a graduate campus in Alexandria as part of the deal that brought Amazon’s second headquarters to Northern Virginia.

A map of the National Landing neighborhood, pictured in pink,
which includes Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

To attract the tech giant, Northern Virginia leaders branded a new neighborhood called National Landing, which comprises parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard. While Amazon will be located in the Arlington portion of National Landing, the Virginia Tech campus will be based in the Alexandria portion.

Early plans released in November called for the campus to be located in Oakville Triangle, a triangular planning area that falls within the Alexandria’s Potomac West small area plan along the west side of Route 1.

The early plans also called for a 1-million-square-foot campus, which includes about 300,000 square feet of academic space, 250,000 square feet of partner space dedicated to startups and corporate facilities, 350,000 square feet of housing for students and faculty and 100,000 square feet of retail and support spaces.

(Amazon selects Crystal City for HQ2)

Monday’s announcement makes clear that those plans have undergone a major shift.

The new campus site has the advantage of being directly adjacent to the planned Metro station and closer to the planned Amazon headquarters. While the campus itself is slated to remain at 1 million square feet, it will become part of a 65-acre – roughly 2.8 million-square-foot – mixed-use development district, according to the release. Plans for the mixed-use district include open space and ground floor retail.

Sands said the decision to relocate had to do with the density Virginia Tech hopes to incorporate into the campus.

“A couple of months ago, we recognized the opportunity here and the larger footprint that would be possible with the 65 acres,” Sands said at the announcement of the relocation on Monday. “The previous site we looked at is a great site and will be a fantastic development going forward, but it was kind of landlocked and we couldn’t bring in partners at the density we’d like to.”

The new mixed-use district will be planned and developed by Lionstone Investments, a real estate investment firm, and JBG Smith, the real estate investment trust that owns most of the existing properties in the Arlington portion of National Landing, according to the release.

“We are just delighted to be here and to be part of this amazing partnership for the Innovation Campus of Alexandria,” Jane Page, president of Lionstone, said at Monday’s announcement. “As a long-term stakeholder in this community, we look forward to transforming this area into the leading center for tech innovation on the east coast where economic viability and technology can intersect and thrive.”

All 65 acres of the new mixed-use district are owned by CPYR Theater LLC c/o The Lionstone Group, according to Adrianne Griffith, marketing and communications coordinator for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership.

“We … feel very fortunate to have found a great partner in Lionstone,” Sands said. “They worked on a number of other really exciting projects nationally and many are focused on mixed-use communities where there’s a concentration of talent.”

Tax incentives for the new development have yet to be determined, Griffith said. The city’s memorandum of understanding with Virginia Tech outlines that a 300,000 square-foot educational building, which would be real estate tax exempt, is expected to be developed by the university or its foundation, Griffith said.

Alexandria Director of Communications Craig Fifer said in an email that the city expected most of the new development to be leased and taxable, with only a portion owned by Virginia Tech and tax-exempt.

(How Northern Virginia locked down Amazon HQ2)

Block 4 of the North Potomac Yard Small Area Plan has been designated for a possible ACPS school. The site appears to fall in the same location as the new Virginia Tech Innovation Campus; however, any adjustment to the designated ACPS school site would need to be approved by city council, ACPS spokesperson Helen Lloyd said. (Map: City of Alexandria)

The announcement of the new mixed-use district has raised questions about what will happen to what now exists on the site.

The new campus is planned to fall where the city had reserved space for a school in the North Potomac Yard small area plan. The potential school, which would serve the students generated by increased density in the area, had been designated for Block 4 of the plan, a parcel of land in the northeastern portion of Potomac Yard, above the existing site of Regal Cinemas and near the Arlington border.

That site is still designated for a city school, according to Alexandria City Public Schools Director of Communications Helen Lloyd. Any adjustment to the designated school site would need to be approved by city council, Lloyd said. There are no further details about when a school might be constructed or what grade level it might serve, Lloyd said.

“The City looks forward to working with Virginia Tech and Lionstone over the next few months on the development plan to figure out the best way to incorporate City uses/needs into the larger campus,” Griffith said in an email.

Residents have also questioned what will happen to the Potomac Yard Center, the shopping complex that includes big-box stores such as Target, Shoppers Market and Best Buy, as well as various chain restaurants, including Cava, Five Guys and Chipotle.

“We always envisioned the shopping center as redeveloping at some point,” Mayor Justin Wilson said Monday morning. “… If you look at the way we are financing Metro and Potomac Yard, a big portion of that is assuming a significant density [increase] on the shopping center site … so we had always envisioned redevelopment. It’s the way we are financing Metro and so [the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus] helps achieve that.”

When asked what would happen to the existing businesses on the site, Wilson said the decision would ultimately be up to landowners.

Another question circulating around the announcement is that of affordable housing. The city lost 90 percent of its affordable housing rental units between 2000 and 2017, according to a 2017 city report. Since then, city leaders have been conscious of establishing affordable housing in new developments.

“We had always envisioned development in both sides of the Route 1 would include affordable housing,” Wilson said. “… These conditions existed prior to Amazon coming to this area, and these are conditions that would exist regardless of whether this was happening, but it does shine a light on it, and it was able to get us some additional state funding.”

As part of the package that attracted Amazon to Northern Virginia, the Virginia Housing Development Authority has committed to providing $15 million per year for five years for affordable and workforce housing in Northern Virginia, according to a state news release.

Looking forward, AEDP President and CEO Stephanie Landrum said the city would work with the community to establish a construction timeline.

“Over the next 30 days, we’ll probably be in touch with the greater community to lay out a timeline,” Landrum said Monday. “Over the next six months, then we will revisit the plans and decide what changes need to happen.”

A 2014 map of the city’s Oakville Triangle planning area. (Map: City of Alexandria)

The first class of Innovation Campus master’s students will enroll in the fall of 2020 and take classes in existing buildings adjacent to where the new academic buildings will be built, according to a news release. When the campus is completed in about 10 years, it is expected to have the capacity for 750 master’s candidates, as well as hundreds of doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

As for Oakville Triangle, landowner Blackstone and development partner Stonebridge are working with the city and AEDP to discuss redevelopment of the site and to identify and attract other commercial tenants, Griffith said.

(Potomac Yard Metro southern entrance returns to chopping block)

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