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Hampton will get a new $9 million seafood research center, part of a reinvention of the downtown waterfront

Daily Press logo Daily Press 6/18/2020 By Lisa Vernon Sparks, The Daily Press

Shovels have yet to hit the ground commencing work on a new Virginia Tech aquaculture facility at Hampton’s downtown waterfront, but its new location and the funds to pay for it are in place.

The Hampton City Council approved an agreement Wednesday with the Virginia Tech Foundation setting the stage to build a new $9.3 million Virginia Seafood Agriculture Research and Extension Center.

It will be at 15 Rudd Lane, on vacant land now owned by the city’s Economic Development Authority. In what amounts to a land swap, the foundation will buy that land while the city buys some foundation-owned parcels on South King Street, including one that houses the current aquaculture facility, which faces the water and is prone to tidal flooding.

One will pay the other any difference in the assessed values. The site on Rudd Lane is in an area more resilient to flooding. The city will plan new development on the land it gets in the deal.

Hampton will lease the site where the current aquaculture center sits back to the foundation so it can operate while the new one is built, said Steve Lynch, a business development manager for the city.

The new center’s $9.3 million price tag will be paid by a $3 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, $1.6 million from the Virginia Tech Foundation, $2.5 million in state funding and $2.2 million from Hampton and its EDA.

Hampton’s support for the new center goes back several years and is one piece of the puzzle in reinventing the downtown waterfront, which includes retaining the city’s legacy seafood wholesale businesses down there. The foundation expects construction on the new center to take a year to 18 months once the land swap is done, Lynch said.

The Agriculture Research and Extension Center, whose core mission is food science research, innovation and safety issues associated with seafood products, opened in 1975 as a two-story building with a 9,600 square feet footprint.

The building originally was an oyster processing center and not equipped for modern aquaculture research, said Michael Schwarz, the center’s director since 1997. Also, the building frequently floods when it rains, which has hindered research.

Schwarz said the foundation has been working on getting a new building since 2000.

“We’ve had many starts and stops,” he said. “It took a lot of hands to make this happen.”

The new center will be a raised two-story building with 21,700 square feet of space, more than double the current size. It will have extra office space, an updated microlab and 12 parking spaces, available to the public after regular business hours. Schwarz said the center is hiring more staff to complement the roughly 10 researchers, technicians and administrative staff already working there now.

“The new building (will) have a nice new classroom, including a cooking demonstration area,” Schwarz said. “All of our old laboratory and research space will be upgraded to the latest capacity and newest equipment … Our facility will no longer have tidal flooding. That is a big plus.”

Lisa Vernon Sparks, 757-247-4832, lvernonsparks@dailypress.com

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©2020 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

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