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The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved plans for the first phase of the massive North Potomac Yard redevelopment on Saturday.

Those plans include three academic buildings with significant open space dedicated to computer science research and development programs for the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, open space and a mix of six residential and office buildings.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

Saturday’s approval was necessary for Virginia Tech to meet its timeline of being operational at Potomac Yard by fall 2024.

The first phase of the $1 billion campus will see construction of three academic buildings dedicated to computer science research and development programs at Alexandria’s border with Arlington. The permanent campus will take up four acres and will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

“We made a commitment, the city made a commitment to do what he can do to get that campus and academic building open by the fall of 2024,” said land use attorney Cathy Puskar, who represents landowner JBG Smith. “And despite a pandemic and other interruptions, everybody has held to that schedule. So, it really has been a Herculean effort, and we’re really excited to be here today.”

The master plan amendment includes increasing building heights near the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station. Buildings in Block 15 would increase in height from 85 feet to 90 feet, and from 90 feet to 115 feet on Block 18.

Council is expected to approve the design of a pump station in the northern section of the property this winter. The property reserved for the pump station will be a temporary home for outdoor parking lots until the underground lots for the buildings under construction are ready.

Images via City of Alexandria

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With the groundbreaking of the first of Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus buildings, Alexandria took a step into a new future on Tuesday.

Governor Ralph Northam joined top brass from Virginia Tech, Boeing, master architect JBG Smith and hundreds of visitors at the groundbreaking for a state-of-the-art 300,000 square-foot building. He said that, when completed, the academic buildings will be places “where academia, government and industry connect working to solve problems through technology.”

Virginia Tech plans on opening the first of three academic buildings in 2024, and the school anticipates teaching computer science research and development programs to 750 master’s degree students when the project is completed in ten years.

Mayor Justin Wilson thanked City Manager Mark Jinks and his staff, as well as the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, which was integral in bringing Amazon’s HQ2 project to the region.

We are so excited that so much of the plans that we have shaped for really a quarter of a century are coming to fruition on this site,” Wilson said. “But, ultimately, it’s not about the buildings. The buildings will be amazing, and we’re really excited about that. It’s the people that will be in the buildings and the people who will leave those buildings, and we are so excited to see the embodiment of this vision come to reality in the buildings here in the city of Alexandria.”

Tara Laughlin is studying for her Master’s degree in computer science at the Innovation Campus, and is one of seven Boeing graduate scholars. Boeing also gave the campus a $50 million gift.

I want to make a difference in the field that I work in, but I honestly just didn’t know where to start,” Laughlin said. “The Innovation Campus answered everything that I’d wanted.”

Matt Kelly, the CEO of JBG Smith, the master developer of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, said that the future looks bright for Potomac Yard.

“When we began courting Amazon alongside the Commonwealth to make Northern Virginia home to HQ2, one of the main points of attraction that they had to the D.C. region was our strong base of tech talent,” he said. “Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus brings that right next door, and delivers on a future of diversifying our economy and broadening that talent base for many decades to come.”

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While a poll showed most ALXnow readers don’t need convincing, Virginia Tech is still pulling out all the stops as it works to get its name added to the Potomac Yard Metro station.

Virginia Tech is in the process of creating Innovation Campus, a new 1 million-square-foot campus at the northern end of Potomac Yard planned to have planned to have around 750 students by the time its completed in ten years. The school has pushed to have the nearby Metro station named “Potomac Yard — VT” to highlight the campus.

Adding Virginia Tech to the primary part of the station name was approved by the City Council and is currently pending review by WMATA.

David Baker, assistant director of Government and Community Relations at Virginia Tech, spoke with ALXnow about the proposal to add VT to the station’s name.

ALXnow: What would you say about the name to those who might be wary of adding Virginia Tech’s initials to the Metro station in the way they might be concerned about adding a corporation’s name?

Baker: As you may know, Metro doesn’t allow corporate entities. What they do allow is universities to have their names included on Metro stations. There are ten universities across the region included on the Metro map.

Our new campus will be less than half a mile — less than a quarter of a mile — from the station. It will be our flagship campus on Northern Virginia. Our obligation to the commonwealth is that we graduate 750 masters students annually

For us to do that, ti’s going to take thousands of students in the pipeline. This is not some sideshow satellite campus, this is a big deal. The state has invested substantial money into this project. It was a key driver for Amazon’s decision, but it’s also a symbol of how the District, Maryland and Virginia came together for the first time to pursue one of these huge economic windfall opportunities. The Innovation Campus is a core component of that.

We’re hearing from leaders that it’s access to talent that’s going to attract the next Amazon.

ALXnow: What about the concern about wanting some permanence for the name? After all, Metro is also now having to remove UVA’s name from the West Falls Church Metro station.

Baker: Virginia Tech has actually bought out UVAs. We are simultaneously going through a process called PPEA with Hick Construction to build a large new facility at the West Falls Church Metro station, focused on smart construction and architecture.

Virginia Tech is investing in that campus as well. UVA was there for 25 years, it made sense at the time. The thing about universities: we talk in centuries, not decades. When universities make investments in campuses, it’s a much longer time frame. That’s why there’s an understanding of that commitment, that’s why the City of Alexandria endorsed adding the name to the station. They see a long term benefit. Looking at the other universities on the Metro stations… that’s as rock solid as we can get

George Mason is the only university in the system that has their name on two stations — as primary on Virginia Square and as a secondary name on Vienna. Their main campus is nowhere close, certainly not within a half-mile. The names already on there are being grandfathered. What we’re saying is “use the George Mason model, keep our name as secondary [at West Falls Church] — but because this is our flagship that’s worthy of the primary name Potomac Yard-VT.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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This week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is asking the public whether or not they’d want to see Virginia Tech added to the name of the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

The name would be associated with Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, which is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area.

Several Metro stations in the system have other locations included, like Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. The additional names can pose a challenge though, like requiring removal if the facility closes — as is the case with West Falls Church Metro station, which has University of Virginia in the name despite UVA no longer operating a school near the station.

In September, the City Council unanimously approved the potential change, but final approval of the change still rests with WMATA.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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The New York City-based property owner of the 65-acre Potomac Yard property will present plans to the Alexandria Planning Commission donate 4.5 acres for an extension of Potomac Yard Park.

The extension is part of Virginia Tech’s massive Innovation Campus development, and the contribution by property owner CPYR Theater, LLC includes handing over responsibility for a pump station that will handle sanitary sewer flows for Virginia Tech’s Sewer to Wastewater Energy Exchange system.

The pump station will be owned and maintained by AlexRenew.

The plans go before the commission on December 1.

The property is located at the former Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, which closed in March due to the pandemic and never reopened.

The extension includes green spaces, public art, stone walls, walkways, benches and a play area for kids. Plans also call for tree and shrub plantings, in addition to a fitness station, bike rack and bike station.

Images via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a proposal adding Virginia Tech’s initials to the Potomac Yard Metro Station.

Council approved the name to be the Potomac Yard – VT station. Now the name change goes before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for final approval.

Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area. Earlier this month, Council deferred the name change after expressing concerns that the site would not meet Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority naming guidelines.

The Metro station is planned to open by spring 2022 and the Innovation Campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024. The campus will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Councilman John Taylor Chapman met with Virginia Tech on the matter.

“This is going to be a partnership, one that’s going to last as long as the station,” Chapman said at the meeting.

Photo via City of Alexandria

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The Alexandria City Council has pushed a decision to add Virginia Tech’s initials to the Potomac Yard Metro Station.

Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area, although no buildings have yet to be constructed and no students are on site. Consequently, some members of council were concerned that the school’s request to add the name to the Metro station would not meet Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority naming guidelines.

“I am nervous about christening this Virginia Tech station when we have not seen an actual building,” said City Councilman John Chapman.

The Metro station is planned to open by spring 2022 and the Virginia Tech Innovation campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024. This and next month, the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission will receive half a dozen plans for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use North Potomac Yard development. The campus will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said that making the name change now would save upward of $350,000 in rebranding should the decision to rename the station be made at a later date. He also said that WMATA would have to grant an exception for the name change, since a campus with 5,000 students is the usual baseline for a name change.

“What Metro has indicated to the city is that, assuming that we bring it forward to Metro before the end of this calendar year, it can be done without any additional costs incurred by the city,” Lambert said. “But if if the station name proposal is brought forward later, either in association with a map change or without a map change the cost can be significant, ranging from $350,000 on the low end to more than $1 million, and those numbers could increase significantly over time.”

Mayor Justin Wilson supported the name change.

“I just want to be crystal clear, in the future if anybody would like to invest a billion dollars next to one of our metro stations, I will lobby to put your name on the station,” Wilson said.

David Baker, a representative from Virginia Tech, said that there will be construction on site when the Potomac Yard station opens in 2022.

“When the station is open, there will be active construction happening,” Baker said. “We are on track as of today, and our obligation to the Commonwealth is to be open for classes and start having the student Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard by the fall of 2024.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus could bring a wealth of economic sustainability to Alexandria, and now the school has requested that the future Potomac Yard Metro station include “VT” in its name.

If approved, the name of the station would be “Potomac Yard-VT.”

Virginia Tech plans to open its doors at Potomac Yard in 2024, and construction is slated to begin this fall. When all is said and done more than 3,000 students will attend classes at the campus in 2028.

The city anticipates no new costs or adjustments to the construction schedule of the metro station due to a potential name change, and the station is scheduled to open in spring 2022. City Council will have to approve the resolution for the name change request, and it will then go to the board of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for final approval, according to a city release. Additionally, WMATA will have to approve an exception to its rules for the name change, since there needs to be a “significant classroom presence” in order to meet specific criteria, and Virginia Tech won’t be there at that time, according to the city.

“This issue is currently anticipated to be docketed for consideration at the City Council Legislative Session on Tuesday, September 8, 2020,” according to the city. “The City has conducted outreach to stakeholder groups comprised of residents, businesses, and Potomac Yard advisory groups within a half-mile radius of the station to solicit feedback on the potential name change.”

Image via City of Alexandria

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Virginia Tech has released drawings of what its first of three academic buildings will look like.

“This project is a bellwether for what we are trying to achieve through our new campus, creating a place that provides the space and environment to foster collaboration and the creation of bold new ideas,” said Lance Collins, the incoming vice president and executive director of the Innovation Campus, said in a statement.

Construction on the 300,000 square-foot building is planned to begin next year and open to computer science students in 2024. The 9-10 story building will be built to LEED Silver certification, and dolomite limestone — also known as Hokie Stone from the college’s campus in Blacksburg — is being considered for the base.

The building was designed by architect SmithGroup and Virginia Tech to take advantage of solar power energy, and features a number of glass and metal panels, terraces and open space. The ground floor and lobby will include exhibits and look out on green space, and it will provide office, classrooms, multi-purpose areas and research and testing labs, according to Virginia Tech.

“We are proud to be working with Virginia Tech on this transformational new campus, which will change the face of computer science and redefine the role of the land-grant university for the 21st century,” said David Johnson of SmithGroup in a statement. “The university’s goal is to re-center computer engineering in a humanist context, and we brought to life an inclusive setting that will help accelerate knowledge creation and solutions at the intersection of humanity and technology.”

The first phase of the $1 billion campus will see construction of three academic buildings dedicated to computer science research and development programs at Alexandria’s border with Arlington. The permanent campus will take up four acres and accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

The property also neighbors the North Potomac Yard redevelopment, which includes the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro Station, a new elementary school and a number of buildings.

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(Updated at 4:55 p.m.) Virginia Tech has to hit 750 master’s degree graduates per year by the end of the decade in a school that hasn’t even been built yet if it wants to hold onto state funding for the project.

During a panel discussion at Agenda Alexandria last night, some of the local leaders working on Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard opened up about the slew of opportunities and challenges the school will face over the next few years.

David Baker, assistant director of government and community relations for Virginia Tech, said the 750 master’s degrees target was a condition of the funding Virginia Tech got from the state to support the school’s development.

The first challenge will be getting the project built by 2024, which the panelists said is their deadline to give Virginia Tech enough time to get the school up and running to hit its deadlines. The project is currently in the design review process, which started in November and is expected to run through fall 2020.

“We’re focused on the area east of Potomac Avenue in phase one to hit the 2024 timeline,” said Bailey Edelson, development senior vice president for JBG Smith. “In terms of planning and construction, that’s lightning-fast. We’re working quickly to make sure they can meet their obligations.”

Once the project finishes construction in 2024, Baker said the school plans to start hosting classes that fall. It will offer master’s and PhD programs with a focus on computer science and engineering, Baker said, with no undergraduate program planned.

(A temporary campus utilizing vacant retail space at the Potomac Yard shopping center will host about 400 students before the opening of the permanent campus.)

While housing is set to be constructed as part of the larger redevelopment of Potomac Yard, no residential areas are set aside as student housing.

“But when we bring multifamily units online, those often serve as housing for graduate students and anyone else who wants to live here,” Bailey said.

She said JBG Smith was committed to co-locating affordable housing at the site. City regulation requires developers seeking bonus density — density beyond what is allowed by local zoning — to supply affordable housing, but some developers instead offer a financial contribution to Alexandria’s Housing Trust Fund and the housing is built elsewhere. Bailey said bringing a supply of housing affordable at all levels to “National Landing” was crucial for the project.

The panel also featured Ryan Touhill, chief of staff for the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and Amol Vaidya from the Potomac Yards Civic Association. As they look at the new development coming online, many residents have already been vocal about their disappointment with the process.

Vaidya said it’s important for local residents to take an active part in the discussion about development.

“We want development to be something that happens with us and not to us,” Vaidya said. “We’re a pro-development community, like to see opportunities, jobs and whatnot, but throughout this dynamic process the partnership is key.”

The next Potomac Yard meeting is an advisory committee meeting on Sunday, Feb. 5, at City Hall.

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