Newport News city officials and Newport News Shipbuilding broke ground Tuesday on land where a 95,000-square-foot building will hold more shipyard offices and a space for children interested in refining their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills.
Construction at 550 30th St. is scheduled to finish by some time next year, said Eric L. Smith, chief investment officer for Armada Hoffler, the Virginia Beach-based company that will construct and manage the building.
The shipyard, a subsidiary of Huntington Ingalls Industries, first announced in December 2016 that it will use the top three floors to design and engineer aircraft carriers and submarines.
Six-hundred employees will fill those floors, said Jennifer Boykin, president of the shipyard, but it is not yet clear how many of those will be new.
“We will have people who are at the leading edge of our innovative workforce — engineers, designers, planners,” Boykin told a crowd of city and company officials on Tuesday at the ceremonial groundbreaking. “It’s also going to hold our craftsmen and women and crafts leaders, who really are defining how we are going to run our business in 21st century. The future of our business is going to start here.”
The EDA will lease 15,000 square feet on the first floor to host programs and workshops to help children who want to strengthen their STEM skills, said Florence Kingston, director of the city’s department of economic development. That partnership is still being worked out, but it will include programming from Old Dominion University.
There will also be space for workforce development training, Kingston said. The EDA is still trying to get Goodwill and the Peninsula Council on Workforce Development to help create the programming for that space, Kingston said. Volunteers with the shipyard and the Boys and Girls Club are expected to help out on the STEM side.
“It’s really part of the shipyard’s community outreach,” Kingston said of the STEM space, adding that it is specifically a vision of Boykin’s.
Boykin said she grew up with a strong STEM background, but has always noticed the lack of women and minorities in the field.
Southeast Commerce Center Associates, a partnership between former NFL star Aaron Brooks and Armada Hoffler, will own the building, Kingston said.
Brooks grew up in Newport News and is the namesake for the Brooks Crossing development, where this building will go. He announced his strong desire to revitalize the city’s Southeast Community in 2008 and was one of the driving forces behind the development, which took about eight years to come to fruition.
“As I spoke (in 2008), I can recall the tears that came down my face,” Brooks said Tuesday. “It was an emotional day, to say the least. Even to this day it is still very emotional to witness such transformation. You all have supported me in this business venture to make this community a better place.”
The Newport News Economic Development Authority owns the land where the new shipyard building will go but is not charging Southeast Commerce Center Associates for it. This represents another part of the city’s commitment to the area’s development, Kingston said.
The city spent $4.5 million on building Jim’s Local Market — which closed last month — and a total $18.3 million on Brooks Crossing as part of its effort to revitalize the Southeast Community.
The Brooks Crossing development houses the Newport News Police Department’s south precinct building and a few other storefronts. Three retail spaces in the development are vacant, according to Armada Hoffler’s website.
Jim’s Local Market, the most visible portion of the development from Jefferson Avenue, closed after owner Jim Scanlon said he could not meet sales goals. The store was opened to eradicate a food desert in the community.
The city is talking to three potential grocers to fill the space but has declined to say who they are, citing ongoing negotiations.
Amin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4890 or on Twitter at @reemadamin.