The coronavirus is likely to make the planned Shannon Hill Business Park more attractive to companies that operate data centers and fulfillment centers, according to an engineer working on a master plan for the site.
With more people working and shopping from home, demand for these sprawling facilities is through the roof, said Joe Hines, a principal for Timmons Group. He cited the rapid growth of e-commerce and video chat services like Zoom, and trends that indicate businesses are looking more for sites on the fringe of metropolitan areas.
Timmons is the lead contractor for the business park and the James River Water Project, which will be the park’s primary water source. Hines and colleague Dave Anderson joined Andy Wade, Louisa County economic development director, for a master plan presentation at the Louisa County Board of Supervisors’ Aug. 17 meeting.
The master plan was funded with a $600,000 grant through the state’s Go Virginia initiative. The grant is also paying for a traffic impact analysis, which Hines said will be completed in the next 60 days.
Traffic on Shannon Hill Road (Route 605) generated by the business park is among the biggest worries for nearby residents. Hines predicted the analysis will show a minimal traffic impact north of the park. No initial upgrades will be needed for the off-ramps at Interstate 64.
“We anticipate close to 90 percent of the traffic will come from I-64 east or west,” said Hines.
The park will need two entrances, one for car traffic and a secondary one for trucks, Anderson said, because a single centralized entry point is more likely to cause traffic headaches on Shannon Hill Road. The primary entrance will be located roughly 0.6 miles north of the interstate.
One of the ongoing questions for the park is when infrastructure, including water and sewer services, will be available. It will cost an estimated $18 million to extend pipelines from the Ferncliff area and to build a water storage tank.
If the county finds a potential tenant for the park and doesn’t have access yet to water from the James River, Hines said the county could drill a well on-site, or it could draw water temporarily from the Zion Crossroads wells. Supervisor Duane Adams (Mineral District) said a well on-site is not an option.
“That’s a non-starter with me. We assured the citizens there would be no commercial wells on that property,” he said.
Hines and Anderson said it makes sense to build the water storage tank early in the land development process, because it can be used as a “billboard” to help market the site.
William Hale, who lives in the area, organized two community meetings in 2019 to give residents a chance to further question county officials about the business park. He said he remains concerned the property is too hilly to develop at a reasonable cost.
“It’s going to be very expensive and require a lot of earth-moving to do large buildings on that topography,” he said. “The land has deep creek valleys and thin ridges.”
Timmons organized two meetings with utility companies and project “investors” in the fall of 2019. The investors included Go Virginia, Thomas Jefferson and Rappahannock-Rapidan regional commissions, University of Virginia and the Central Virginia Partnership for Economic Development.
Out of those meetings emerged a vision for the layout of different uses in the business park. The footprint of buildings in the master plan totals 4.5 million square feet, with logistics and distribution making up close to half the space. Advanced manufacturing and data centers each account for 25 percent of development. Office space would be relatively minimal at 72,000 square feet.
Data centers, which employ few people, would be best located in the rear of the site near Parrish Road, Anderson said. Logistics-oriented businesses such as an Amazon-style distribution center would be served by the secondary entrance, to be located somewhat north of the main entry point. Office and advanced manufacturing companies, more likely to have a good number of workers, would be located closer to the main entrance.
When the business park is fully built out, it will generate nearly $12 million in annual state income tax revenue, Hines said. That number will entice state officials to work closely with Louisa County to close deals with prospective tenants, he said.