The newly constructed Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC) is more than just a building. The new $10 million complex in Hampton reaffirms Virginia Tech's 47-year-old commitment to supporting the future of the Virginia seafood industry — an industry whose economic contributions exceeded $1 billion for the commonwealth in 2019.

"We're here to serve the Virginia seafood industry and working to identify and respond to emerging needs and opportunities has always been the primary driver," said Virginia Seafood AREC Director Michael Schwarz at the facility's grand opening on Nov. 30. "The enhanced capacity of this new building will allow us to grow programs in ways that will benefit our stakeholders for years to come."

Stakeholders, industry partners, and state and local officials attended the grand opening celebration at the Historic Hampton Post Office in Hampton. A few blocks away, tours showcased the new building and its laboratories, classroom, and aquaculture facilities, where researchers are conducting fish feed trials with ingredients like high-protein grains.

"The state-of-the-art research laboratories in this center will produce and develop technologies that will change the way we work on the water. The classrooms will produce new generations of young men and women who will take that research and put it into practice," said Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. "Consumers don't always care to know where all that research and technology comes from, but they will be eating better, safer, and more plentiful seafood because of the work done in this facility."

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Schwarz and his growing team worked out of a former oyster processing facility before moving into the new research center at 15 Rudd Lane earlier this summer. The facility's opening marks the latest in a series of ongoing revitalization efforts in the coastal city whose economy and livelihood have always been inextricably tied to the water and the seafood industry.

Oysterman stands behind a full bushel of oysters on a boat.
The economic contributions of the Virginia seafood industry were found to exceed $1 billion for the commonwealth in 2019, and the Virginia Seafood AREC works with the industry to keep it productive and sustainable. Photo by Keri Rouse for Virginia Tech.

“We're proud to have been part of the Hampton Roads region for nearly 50 years," Virginia Tech President Tim Sands said at the grand opening. "This beautiful facility, and the work that goes on here, is the latest example of how partnerships lead to success."

"Our footprint in the region has grown to include the ARECs in Tidewater, Virginia Beach, and Suffolk, the Newport News Center, and the Virginia Tech Coastal Collaborator. We are also supporting regional economic development as part of the Tech Center Research Park at Oyster Point," Sands said.

The new Virginia Seafood AREC and the Coastal Collaborator initiative in Hampton will expose the public and businesses in the region to Virginia Tech research to support coastal industries and communities. The new facility is one piece of the broader economic boom occurring downtown due to increased development interest, investment, and growth. 

Audience gathered around tables to listen to program remarks.
The new research facility is owned by the Virginia Tech Foundation. Justice McClanahan, the chief executive officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation, delivered remarks at the grand opening ceremony. Photo by Keri Rouse for Virginia Tech.

 "A 173,651-square-foot mixed-use building currently under construction will host 159 new market-rate apartments as well as office and retail space," said Steven Lynch, senior business development manager with the City of Hampton. "It's just the first phase of a larger overall plan that will consist of more than a million square feet in new residential and commercial development."

Lynch said the development plan also aims to increase public access to the waterfront and potentially allow visitors and residents to learn more about the local seafood industry.

"Additional research into the economics and marketing of this industry, as well as its regulatory impact, will benefit every aspect of our city, our region, and our state. We are so thrilled to be working with Virginia Tech and so proud that this vital work is being done here in Hampton," Tuck said.

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