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A map shows where Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus will be located in Alexandria.

Virginia Tech’s Innovation campus will likely start in an Alexandria strip mall.

The university’s Foundation has filed for a special use permit to operate classroom, marketing and laboratory space in the Potomac Yard Center, according to a zoning permit filed with the city.

The permit application, obtained via the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, requests to use class space inside a vacant storefront, which was formerly a Dress Barn, as well as space where there’s now a Rack Room Shoes. The zoning permit says the university could use up to 30,000 square feet of retail space in the Northern Virginia shopping center, if it expands outside of the two store fronts.

Tech’s ultimate goal is to build a $1 billion, one million-square-foot campus in the Potomac Yard area. State officials have called the move integral to Amazon’s decision to bring its HQ2 project to Virginia.

Having an established, though temporary, space in the neighborhood illustrates Tech’s desire to “establish a presence on the site by hosting academic hosting academic programming and research labs as well as promoting the new district with a marketing center,” according to Tech’s filing.

Last month, the university announced plans to locate its campus on a 15-acre location in what’s now the shopping center in partnership with Lionstone Investments. The campus will be part of a 65-acre mixed-use district that includes 7.5 million square feet of development and a stone’s throw from a future Metrorail station.

The first class of graduate students will enroll in the fall of 2020 in existing buildings near the campus. Tech’s Board of Visitors approved a resolution last month moving forward a new computer science degree designed for students at the campus.

The university will have about 750 graduate students at the campus in the next decade and undergraduates participating in various programs at the Innovation campus will rotate in and out from Blacksburg.

Alexandria’s Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing about the permit application for Sept. 3.

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Robby Korth covers higher education, primarily Virginia Tech.

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