Albemarle County supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday that preserves the opportunity for private development in what’s being called Rivanna Station Futures, the 462 acres the county plans to buy surrounding Rivanna Station, home to multiple key U.S. intelligence agencies.
That means private enterprises — including defense contractors and academic partners as well as day cares and laundromats — could soon join the highly secretive establishments already based at the campus north of Charlottesville.
“There is no reason in the world I can think of why we would not want to give ourselves the greatest flexibility and opportunity,” said Donna Price, chair of the board of supervisors, at Wednesday’s meeting.
The board of supervisors approved acquisition of the land May 24 and has now entered the “due diligence” phase, which includes contractual due diligence and an environmental analysis. After that period, which could last until February, the county will officially own the property.
The defense industry is the second biggest industry in the regional economy, bringing in $1.2 billion, half of which comes from Rivanna Station. More than 3,000 people are employed by the defense industry in the area, 2,100 of them at Rivanna Station alone.
The U.S. Department of Defense is investing more than $200 million into Rivanna Station, including $90 million to expand the National Ground Intelligence Center based there. But according to Lettie J. Bien with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, that doesn’t guarantee that Rivanna Stations would stay in Albemarle County.
A location in the Midwest offered the Department of Defense 100 free acres for Rivanna Station to move, Bien has previously said publicly. That city is St. Louis, which is currently developing 97 acres to build a new facility for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a project called Next NGA West.
“Ensuring the Station remains viable is essential for our community’s vibrancy,” said an information sheet from the project, and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors agreed Wednesday that Rivanna Station Futures should be a priority moving forward as Virginia’s newest members of the General Assembly, many of them essentially picked after Tuesday night’s primary, prepare to head to Richmond for the next session. Now, the county is plunging straight ahead into next steps to complete the land acquisition.
Once officially acquired, the county plans to develop a campus in the 200 acres adjacent to Rivanna Station, what they are calling the Intelligence Community Innovation Acceleration Campus. That campus might consist of collaborations between the intelligence community, academic institutions and, now, private sector operations.
“Having all three of those partners together, you could have a really great sort of ecosystem in which you’ve got data and knowledge generated from the intelligence community meeting academic research and entrepreneurial activity for commercialization,” Emily Kilroy, assistant to the county executive, told The Daily Progress.
“Many people appreciate having a short distance between the folks that they work with and so this week’s ability, where you wouldn’t have to get in the car and drive across town to be able to work with these academic partners in these private sector partners,” Kilroy added.
The other form of private development could include “neighborhood services”: places for employees located in the area to get lunch, run errands, pick up dry cleaning or drop kids off for the day.
The county plans for the new campus are based on a “master plan” constructed by Rivanna Station and the state in 2016 “in recognition of the need to plan for the future of the organization,” Kilroy said. The plan envisioned a 100-acre expansion and an extension of Boulders Road off U.S. 29 to provide a second access point to the campus.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprises Forum, spoke about growing up at or near military establishments. With his father in the service, Williamson said he and his brother would get their haircut at a barbershop at the Pentagon and eat lunch at a “terrible restaurant” called the Pickle Palace afterwards, he said.
“If you don’t do this, you would be actively prohibiting private enterprise from locating where private enterprise is needed,” Williamson said. “We are outsourcing so much, and our military deserves so much. Whether it’s a large business like some of the contractors or a small business like a sandwich shop that serves pickles, it certainly is good for Albemarle County.”
There was nothing but support for the resolution to allow private development at the resolution’s public hearing on Wednesday.
Natalie Masri, president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, expressed the chamber’s endorsement of the resolution. Private enterprise co-locating at Rivanna Station Futures would stimulate diversified job creation, capital investment and entrepreneurship, she said. It may also reduce traffic on U.S. 29 by offering services and offices adjacent to NGIC.
Michael Scott, a resident of the county’s Rio District, requested the board preserve 20% of the acquired area as a “rejuvenation zone” for military personnel and veterans. A preserved nature area is essential to the health and well-being of those affected by deployments and taxing operations, he said, citing multiple studies detailing the benefits of nature-based therapy.
But ultimately, Scott had no complaints. “This is hands-down the best, most forward-leaning proposal I’ve seen in three decades,” he said.
In the coming months, county staff are working on partner engagements with the state and federal government, as well as partnerships with academic entities. Strategic plans and conversations at the state level have for years identified retaining and growing Rivanna Station as a “win-win” for local, state and federal entities alike.