‘Virginia Tech Innovation Campus is not Amazon University,’ says Alexandria panel

WASHINGTON — The new headquarters of Amazon will not have a footprint in the city of Alexandria, but the technology giant’s arrival is “the catalyst” in plans to build the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

“When you look at a map now of National Landing, which encompasses Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard, at the top, in Crystal City is where Amazon will be building their ultimate headquarters,” said Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. “Two miles, straight down Route 1, will be the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.”

The proposed campus has been cited as one of the main reasons Amazon chose the National Landing location. With low unemployment in the area — especially in the high-technology fields — the program is designed to create a stronger tech-talent pipeline, said Landrum.

“The campus will offer a master’s degree in computer science and software engineers, but we also see quite a lot of room for Ph.D. students, and other graduate level programs, that really are part of the research enterprise that will unfold,” said Brandy Salmon, managing director of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus.

The state’s luring of Amazon came with financial promises to the company to help develop the infrastructure to support both the new development and those already living in the area.

“Virginia Tech Innovation Campus is not Amazon University,” said Landrum, echoing Salmon’s comments that other tech companies will likely hire students, and benefit from the campus’s proximity to the nation’s capital.

In a panel discussion organized by the city of Alexandria, Karl Moritz, the city’s director of planning and zoning, says plans were underway before Amazon was in the picture to develop the area where the innovation campus will sit, which has been dubbed Oakville Triangle.

All of the participants said future public comment events will attempt to ensure the new development benefits, rather than causes hardship, for those living in the Del Ray and Arlandria neighborhoods, directly west of U.S. 1, which runs north from Old Town Alexandria, through Potomac Yard, Crystal City, and Pentagon City, before crossing the Potomac River.

Moritz said “there are specific recommendations for virtually every block in Oakville Triangle,” to improve mobility.

“Things like street width, where people are going to cross, making sure sidewalks are wide enough, making sure there’s enough space between the sidewalk and the street itself, and traffic calming to make sure it’s safer for the pedestrians who are also using that space,” Moritz said.

The Potomac Yard Metro station is expected to open in 2021, serving the Blue and Yellow lines.

Landrum said the area is well-suited to handle the number of people who will work, live, eat, and play in the Route 1 stretch, between the Virginia Tech campus and the Amazon headquarters.

“Those two anchors of National Landing are connected by Bus Rapid Transit that literally runs front door to front door, a Metro system, heavy rail (in Amtrak), bike trails, walking paths, and roadways,” said Landrum. “We really felt there was not a better place to plant these two catalysts on either end of this district.”

Moritz said the city will organize several public comment events, beginning in early April.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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