BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center has joined forces with a local landowner to build professional housing within the business park.
The upscale apartments are designed to make the research center more attractive, embracing the “live, work, play” mantra that now dominates the research park industry.
The CRC has more than 1 million square feet of office space. It has recently expanded its play options with amenities to play soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, basketball, disc golf.
But the live part has fallen behind, CRC President Joe Meredith said.
“What we’re trying to do is create a self-contained community that has all the amenities at your fingertips,” he added. “The last amenity that we don’t have is housing.”
The project is just getting underway, with an expected completion date in 2020 — though that’s subject to change.
Local technology entrepreneur John Olver is leading the effort.
He bought the seven-acre parcel off U.S. 460 in the early 1980s, when it was just a wooded hill overlooking cow pastures about three miles from Virginia Tech’s campus.
Olver, who owned engineering firm Olver Laboratories at the time, was looking to build a new office. He said he drew up plans and was ready to begin construction, but that’s when the CRC began to take shape around his land.
He decided to scrap his plans and let the property sit for three decades.
Olver has received offers over the years. A group of alumni wanted to build five homes within walking distance to their planes at the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport. He also considered building his own office building, but that didn’t make sense when he would be competing with the CRC.
As the years passed, Olver’s land became an island almost entirely surrounded by Virginia Tech’s booming business park.
Today, the CRC hosts 84 companies and research centers, which employ more than 3,000 mostly high-income workers.
Olver said it became clear the timing was right to develop the land, so he asked Meredith what he would like to see there.
“The first part of the zoning redefinition is the neighborhood meeting,” Meredith said. “We’re the neighbors.”
“He’s the only neighbor,” Olver added with a laugh. “So it wouldn’t do me any good to go get a rezoning without Joe’s concurrence. It’s good to have a good neighbor.”
The idea is to build the apartment building to match the aesthetic of the business park, even though it will be privately owned.
Olver, who has no building experience, has tapped Blacksburg developer Jeanne Stosser to lead the project. He’s hired a contracting firm, architect and they’re working on the plans now.
Meredith, meanwhile, has circulated a survey around the business park to see what kind of units employees there want to rent. He has already started a list of prospective tenants who want to stay in the loop as the project moves forward.
It’s too early to know what the building will look like, or exactly how large it will be. But Olver said he’s aiming for around 350 bedrooms and the kind of amenities that tenants expect from high-end apartments.
He plans to submit a rezoning request — with the CRC’s blessing — to the town in January.
“When I’m recruiting companies out of Northern Virginia and I can say not only can you have your company here, but you can have some executive suites,” Meredith said, “it gives me something else to make the CRC more attractive.”