Initially, 2014 was supposed to be the year bioscience research firm Covance would bring the last of about 550 high-paying jobs to Prince William County via its new $175 million research lab at Innovation Park.
Instead, Covance began work earlier this month to dismantle the partially built steel structure that would have housed the lab -- had it not fallen victim to the Great Recession and related excesses in lab capacity in the drug-development market.
The demolition of the structure, first erected in 2007, erases the only visible sign that a much-heralded deal to bring another life sciences facility to Innovation Park, the county’s 1,500-acre economic development epicenter near Va. 234 and Va. 28, didn’t work out as planned.
But county officials say the structure’s removal is a positive development and one that will hopefully clear the way for a new project on what they say is still a highly desirable site.
“From our prospective, with the structure down, it’s going to be a nice clean site,” Prince William Economic Development Director Jeff Kaczmarek said Friday. “With the structure down, the marketability is going to be improved.”
The county did not ask Covance to remove the rusting structure or help pay to take it down, Kaczmarek said.
The 120-acre site is still owned by Covance and Eli Lilly & Co. The land was first purchased by Lilly to build an insulin manufacturing plant, but the Indianapolis-based firm scuttled those plans in early 2007.
Several months later, the New Jersey-based Covance purchased part of the property for its 410,000-square-foot research lab, which was intended to conduct safety testing for pharmaceutical products. According to the company’s initial plans, about 550 scientists, research assistants, veterinarians and administrative professionals would have been employed at the site by 2014.
At the time, the Covance announcement sparked some controversy among animal-rights activists who urged county officials not to allow animal testing on the site.
The projects were awarded about $3.5 million in state and county economic development grants, which were transferred from Lilly to Covance when Lilly abandoned its project.
About $1 million of that money came from Prince William County in the way of matching funds for a state grant, but Kaczmarek said the money was repaid to the county when Covance announced they wouldn’t build the lab.
Attempts to reach Covance officials and the Virginia Department of Commerce regarding the fate of the $2.5 million Covance received in state grant money were unsuccessful Friday.
Kaczmarek said the Lilly and Covance grant deals were one of the few negotiated for firms located at Innovation Park that haven’t panned out.
The number of such deals has been few – about 15, Kaczmarek said. All include the stipulation that the money will be returned if project don’t meet specified metrics.
Prince William’s economic development officials are continuing to help Covance and Lilly market the site, touting its large acreage and proximity to Interstate 66 and Dulles International Airport.
As part of Innovation Park, the site is also close to the area’s main occupant – George Mason University’s Life Sciences Campus – as well as a cluster of bioscience and technology firms, including American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), Corning, Inc., and the NIH Biomedical Research Laboratory.
Also located at Innovation Park are the FBI Northern Virginia Resident Agency, the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences Northern Laboratory and the Prince William County Police Western District Station.
“So all the attributes that attracted Lilly and Covance are in place and consequently will be attractive to other companies now that they have this nice clean site,” Kaczmarek said.
Although no deals for the property are currently in the works, Kaczmarek said the removal of the steel structure has prompted several phone calls and emails to the economic development department.
“I will tell you this… I’ve had more calls in the last two weeks of people asking what’s going on out there,” he said. “There’s been quite a bit of interest. … We have had inquiries from developers and other entities. Everybody knows that is a prime site.”