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Alexandria City Council approvals move Innovation Campus forward

virginia tech logoVirginia Tech’s Innovation Campus has taken a big step forward with Alexandria’s City Council unanimously approving the Coordinated Development District Concept Plan.

The Innovation Campus will make its home in the first phase of a new mixed-use development and innovation district in North Potomac Yard that JBG SMITH is developing near the future Potomac Yard Metrorail Station.

Council’s approval during a virtual meeting on June 20 was a key milestone in the approvals process with the city because it clears the way for construction of roads, utilities and other infrastructure to begin later this year. The university expects to break ground on the first academic building in 2021 and welcome students, faculty and staff into the completed building in fall 2024.

“This is a big step,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said at the meeting. “It’s exciting to see a vision come to reality here. I think what’s before us is, quite honestly in some cases, even better than I imagined we would ultimately get.”

Virginia Tech announced plans for the new campus as part of the successful bid to attract Amazon to the region. The Innovation Campus will eventually be comprised of three buildings on about four acres at the northern end of phase 1, near Alexandria’s border with Arlington County. The university, through the Virginia Tech Foundation, also plans to lease 75,000 square feet in an adjacent “Innovation Building” JBG SMITH is developing. The other five buildings in this phase will house office, residential and ground-level retail space.

The first academic building for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria features a design centered on the principles of sustainability, health and wellness, green and social spaces, accessibility, connectivity, flexibility and integrated technology. It was designed by SmithGroup, one of the world’s preeminent integrated design firms.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker praised the development environmental sustainability components.

“The small area plan envisions that this would be one of the most sustainable neighborhoods in the region and a model of environmental sustainability. I think that’s happening with the Virginia Tech buildings based on what I’ve seen thus far, said Bennett-Parker said at the meeting. “I’m excited about the future of Potomac Yard and Virginia Tech.”

Her comments were echoed by the mayor. “We have an opportunity to do some amazing transformational things,” Wilson said.

When completed, the 300,000-square-foot academic building will provide instruction, research, office, and support spaces for graduate-level programs in Computer Science and Computer Engineering, as well as select other programs. Experiential learning environments within this building will be designed to enhance the Virginia Tech experience including flexible multi-purpose areas, research and testing labs, and maker spaces.

The academic building incorporates opportunities for daylight, while addressing solar heat gain, glare and occupant comfort. Occupants will have access to nature through connection to open space and parks in the district, and within the building via multiple terraces. The ground floor will be welcoming and active, with exhibits in the lobby and transparency toward the campus green. The university can put science on display to better connect with the local community and attract future students.

Mayor Wilson also complimented the open space plan for the innovation district, which includes the design and construction of Potomac Yard Park that would be managed by the city as well as the design, construction  and programming of several other plaza and green spaces on and around the Innovation Campus.

Brandy Salmon, managing director of the Innovation Campus, thanked Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks for the collaboration and hard work of the city’s planning staff to continue to move the project forward during the pandemic that has forced everyone to work remotely. She noted that council’s approval was the first in a series of important milestones for the campus this summer.

In mid-August, Lance Collins joins Virginia Tech as the Innovation Campus’s first vice president and executive director. A few weeks later the inaugural class of Innovation Campus students will start classes in existing Virginia Tech space in Falls Church.

“We are thrilled to move one step closer to opening our campus in Alexandria,” Salmon said in response to council’s vote. “We aren’t waiting to make an impact. As we emerge from the pandemic, Virginia Tech’s commitment to help double the commonwealth’s tech-talent pipeline and sustain the greater Washington D.C. metro area as the next emerging tech hub is more important than ever.”