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Work at Innovation Hub proceeds smoothly

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, prep work continues at the Innovation Hub site; above, a rendering of the finished building. / January 09, 2020

Construction of the SOVA Innovation Hub on Wilborn Avenue is moving along smoothly in anticipation of finishing the 15,000 square foot, two-story building in the fall, when the Hub will become downtown South Boston’s first new office building in more than 40 years.

Following the official groundbreaking ceremony in early October 2019, crews have been hard at work prepping the site for building construction. Workers with J. Harmon Saunders Construction Inc. are now doing grading and site work, and new storm water pipes are lined up on Wilborn Avenue waiting to be buried in the ground.

This Tuesday, construction workers labored in the rain dredging the erosion pond on the backside of the lot, across from the New Brick Exchange Lofts on Johnston Street.

“Everything is moving relatively well considering the weather,” said South Boston Town Manager Tom Raab. Raab added that the building permits are being pulled now and should be ready by the end of the week.

Once completed, the SOVA Innovation Hub will become home to Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corp. (MBC), which will occupy the building’s second floor. The first floor will be leased out to community development and educational partners and to the venture’s nameplate tenant — tech giant Microsoft, which is moving its TechSpark Virginia initiative to downtown South Boston.

MBC plans to relocate its workforce of about 20 employees from the company’s current home at the Southern Virginia Technology Park on U.S. 58 to the Wilborn Avenue site. MBC officials have expressed optimism that the number of local employees could grow quickly, with up to 40 to 50 new positions added in coming years.

“We’re excited to see progress at the site, and appreciate the hard work of our local contractors who are working long hours to keep the project on schedule,” said Tad Deriso, MBC’s President and CEO.

A key feature of the Innovation Hub will be Microsoft’s “Experience Space,” which will showcase some of the technologies that are being developed by the Redmond, Wash. technology giant. Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative is intended to foster economic growth in rural America through the adoption and learning of advanced technologies.

“We’re enthusiastic about the unique programs being developed with our local and regional partners, and finalizing designs for the Microsoft Experience Space and the co-working office layouts for the SOVA Innovation Hub,” said Deriso.

Microsoft TechSpark Virginia will provide digital skills training to promote the employability of local residents in high-tech fields, while also providing broadband Wi-Fi internet access in the downtown area — another step towards building educational and economic opportunities in southern Virginia.

The aim, according to Microsoft officials, is to help nonprofits, startups, and companies leverage the power of technology to grow, innovate, and compete in growing tech markets worldwide.

The Innovation Hub will house other non-profit and community organizations in the first floor space, including the Southern Virginia Technology Council, Virginia Advanced Study Strategies, and Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, along with the area’s community colleges. Another tenant will be CodeVA, a Richmond-based computer science education organization for K-12 students.

Mid-Atlantic Broadband is investing more than $5 million to build the Innovation Hub. In the initial stages of construction, in late 2019, contractors tore down the old Haislip Dental lab, the original home of Crowell Motor Company, as MBC moves forward with revitalizing a blighted portion of downtown.

Created in 2003 with the support of the Virginia Tobacco Commission, MBC owns and operates 1,900 miles of fiber optic backbone that provides ultra-fast connectivity to internet service providers (ISPs) and some 450 on-net buildings throughout Virginia. MBC’s backbone network connects to all of Southside’s industrial, technology and business parks, providing local employers with carrier-class service not available in many areas of the U.S.

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