City looks to build biomedical park as part of initiative

Virginia Beach could designate 155 acres in Princess Anne Commons for a biomedical research park by the year’s end. The project is part of what the city is calling its BeachBio initiative to diversify its economy with an expansion into that area of research.

(Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)
(Courtesy of City of Virginia Beach)

Warren Harris, the city’s economic development director, has asked the City Council to transfer the land to the Virginia Beach Development Authority by December so it can begin installing utilities. The land is just southeast of the intersection of Princess Anne Road and Landstown Center Way.

Details are still being finalized on the park. Harris said construction dates and costs have not been determined, but the city knows what kinds of research it wants there – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neuroscience and brain injuries.

Those fields are relevant to current industries in the Beach, including the military, Harris said. The city wants to grow jobs and commercialize the results of any successful research.

Construction is planned to begin with a 25,000 square-foot building. Harris said at a council meeting last week that an anchor tenant is close to signing on and would fill two-thirds of that building “right off the bat.”

The park could expand to include one million square feet of office and wet lab space, Harris said.

“So we think we would be well severed here for some time,” he said Friday.

Mayor Will Sessoms announced plans in 2014 to pursue a biomedical park with the goal of diversifying the city’s economy, which is dominated by the military.

“This is our future,” Sessoms said last week.

The city will partner with universities in the area to get the project going, Harris said. For example, Tidewater Community College will provide wet lab space to researchers. That space has potential tenants as well, Harris said.

Councilmembers expressed concerns at their meeting Tuesday about the project’s potential impact on traffic in the area and its feasibility. Councilman John Moss said he did not believe local partner universities would extend themselves far enough financially to lure researchers.

Harris and Sessoms replied that if that were the case, the city might invest directly in a researcher but gave no details on how that relationship might work.

The state is currently investing more resources in the bioscience industry, in areas from Richmond to the Oceanfront. The BeachBio initiative will work closely with the state’s efforts, called the Virginia Bioscience Economy Initiative, and will launch a website advertising the Beach next month to medical experts.

A market study completed for the city in February said the sector’s relevance would only grow across the state and region in the coming decades.

“If it’s going to be a big part of our economy then it’s something we need to pay attention to,” Harris said.

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