By Jared Council
After going down a list of Hampton University's past and potential development projects at a commercial real estate luncheon, school representative Bill Thomas put it all in perspective.
Thomas, who is associate vice president for governmental relations, said officials are eyeing land and properties in the area, including the Casemate Museum at nearby Fort Monroe. Acquiring land, he said, has been a part of the university since its 1868 founding.
"At the end of the day, Hampton was started by getting some land, owning some land and holding that land," he said. "A lot of times you'll see us fighting like dogs to keep our property, and we'll fight you till our hearts stop."
Thomas was one of three higher education representatives at a luncheon held at the Virginia Beach Westin by the Hampton Roads chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW. About 70 people attended, including a few city officials, and the speakers gave a glimpse into the roles of schools as developers in the community.
Bob Fenning, the vice president for administration and finance at Old Dominion University, said the university uses its real estate foundation - which can raise money and accept land donations under 501(c) 3 status - to advance projects.
The school's biggest task under way is the University Village Plan, a 67-acre redevelopment project that began in the mid 1990s, Fenning said.
So far, about $380 million worth of development has been completed, including the Ted Constant Center, the Village Bookstore and the Innovation Research Park.
About $75 million of that figure has come from the university; $15 million has come from the city of Norfolk and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Private developers spent $290 million, Fenning said.
"Everything in that Village area - with the exception of the Ted and the south parking deck - are on the tax rolls of the city," he said, acknowledging Norfolk's interim development director, Chuck Rigney, in the audience.
"And we're generating about $4.4 million a year, which is not a bad ROI on a $15 million investment, Chuck. I'm sure you do deals like that all the time."
Rigney responded: "Actually, we do some that aren't quite as good."
Frank Dunn, Tidewater Community College's executive vice president, noted that, unlike universities, community colleges can't buy land or develop infrastructure.
But that hasn't stopped development plans, and through the help of city partners the school has four campuses and eight additional centers on about 264 acres of property in South Hampton Roads.
The school has spent $84.1 million developing student centers over the past several years, including one on the Norfolk campus that opened in May 2011. Student centers at the Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach campuses are scheduled to open over the next several months.
"We're not using any land for this project," he said about the Virginia Beach campus student center. "It's being built on a pond."
TCC has a real estate foundation that holds 389 acres of Suffolk shoreline property that sits at the foot of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel. The city's Economic Development Authority owns 56 adjacent acres to the south. There have been talks of a residential/commercial development there, but Dunn said the foundation is launching a master planning effort to determine what the development might be, based on a completion date in the early 2030s.
Fenning said developing has several benefits for the school and the community, including creating additional revenue streams, promoting economic development, addressing blight and crime, enhancing the university's image and more.
Thomas said Hampton University is looking to keep tuition rates in check by generating revenue from other sources, including federal grants and contracts for operating a weather data center. He also said the school has influenced economic development by investing in projects, including a $10 million contribution toward the Virginia Beach Westin.
The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, a $225 million project, has created jobs and saved lives, he said.
Speaking before the meeting about a $3.5 million appropriation for the center that the General Assembly voted down, Thomas said, "We make investments in the commonwealth, but when we ask the state to invest in us, they don't do it."