SIH Update, July 2019

July 2, 2019

Stakeholders, Supporters, Members, and Friends,

I’m reaching out today to offer an update on the Staunton Innovation Hub (SIH) project. As a quick background, the overarching mission of SIH is to reduce barriers to innovation - we offer space, community, and support to our members.  Space offerings include coworking, small private offices, and larger “anchor” spaces, all of which have access to shared well-outfitted resources such as conference rooms, classrooms, common spaces, meeting spaces, and more. We build community through events, conversation, and collaboration.  We support our members with intentional programs that foster innovation and growth.

This project is split into three phases - Phase 1: 32 N Augusta St (open and operating), Phase 2: Former News Leader building (under construction), and Phase 3: A downtown Plaza/Green space to link the two buildings (not yet started).  

Staunton Innovation Hub completed the purchase of all of the properties December 14, 2017.  On March 1, 2018 - three short months and a flurry of renovation later - Phase 1 of the Staunton Innovation Hub project opened its doors at 32 N. Augusta St.  We were met with incredible community support, were leased at capacity on the day we opened, and set the stage for the bigger vision that is to be the entire Staunton Innovation Hub campus.  While not originally part of the vision for SIH, this 4,000 sqft Phase 1 building provided an opportunity to support our members sooner, test and validate ideas and assumptions, and build momentum for the entire project.  This phase currently houses our coworking facility on the first floor, a shared break room, shared phone booths, a shared high-tech conference room, and six private offices of various sizes (each house a different, amazing company), all of which are serviced by a synchronous fiber optic gigabit internet connection.  

It’s an amazing community of amazing people, representing one of the broadest cross sections of businesses that I’ve ever seen under one roof.  Over 60 coworkers accomplish greatness within these walls every week. We host weekly events ranging from lunch-and-learns on inspiring business topics, panel discussions with groups such as LEAD Virginia, monthly art openings, to private 1-on-1 office hours that support our members on marketing, finance, legal, and more.  If you haven’t seen this place in action yet, please come by and visit sometime! It’s a hustling, bustling epicenter of hard work, dreams in action, and a fantastic place filled with incredible energy. It’s because of the members that this ecosystem has taken off at such velocity, and the truth is - we’re only getting started!  

 

Phase 2 of this project - the renovation and rehabilitation of the 25,000 sqft former News Leader building, is underway.  This is a complex project - renovating a large old building, historic tax credits, multi-layered financing models, and a multi-tenant leasing model.  It has become bigger and more complex than I think anyone on our internal team or our external design and construction teams expected.  And yes, it’s behind schedule and over budget - something we are learning is a frequent occurrence of projects of this complexity and scale.  We originally hoped to have the doors open by August 2019 - that’s just not going to happen. We are currently planning on opening Phase 2’s doors early 2020, which is still contingent on jumping a few remaining hurdles.  

That said, progress has been made on this renovation.  Demolition and asbestos abatement is complete. It’s a beautiful and structurally sound building with some great character.  We’ve been approved by the Department of Historic Resources for all of the tax credits we need. We have design and construction documents completed.  We have lifelike renderings of the future space that make it seem real enough to walk through today. We have a waitlist for over 80% of the space in the building.  

We have everything a project like this could want and are tackling the one remaining problem - construction costs have increased over 35% since we kicked this project off, contributing to the bulk of a budget overrun of almost $2 Million.  

I grew up in a small community in rural West Virginia and spent much of my childhood exploring and enjoying the thousands of acres of woods behind my house.  I’m a firm believer that there is always a path forward - it just may require getting your feet muddy, climbing over some obstacles, or pushing your way through some undergrowth.  This project is no different. The path forward may not be smooth and paved, but there is a path. I am very confident that we will clarify this path very soon as a result of hard work, great partners, creative thinking, and a shared vision of what SIH is doing and will do for the Shenandoah Valley.

The funding and risk for this project has all been handled internally.  We will not accept any external investment until we have a clear path forward.  Nor will we bring on a full time community manager until this threshold is met. New paths seem to appear each week, for which we are extremely grateful.  Now it just comes down to modeling the various paths to see which lead out of the woods and to the right destination for the vision of this project.   

Examples of variables we are tweaking and considering include increased financing, increased outside investment, developer partnerships, external grant and funding sources, facility sponsorships, reduced scope of work, phased scope of work, less expensive finishes, and other creative fundraising efforts - and that’s just as of today.  



Phase 3 - the outdoor plaza (currently referred to as the “Square”, as in “SIH 2” ) ("SIH Squared"), get it?), is designed to be an incredible outdoor asset to downtown Staunton.  It will be a mixed public/private use facility. The current loading dock that you can see from Augusta St. will double as the main entrance to SIH and will become an outdoor stage - imagine a Heifetz or Staunton Music Festival performance serenading downtown on a summer evening.  We will retain parking only near the Visulite, and it will have hookups for food trucks that will visit 2-3 days per week. Various trees, wildflowers gardens, and seating areas will adorn the remaining space providing opportunities for our community members and visitors alike to relax, enjoy some gelato and other take-out, listen to a performance, host a reception, write on the outdoor chalkboard, or enjoy coffee and conversation.  

Phase 3 is estimated to cost approximately $250,000 and will be the last phase completed.  Due to the cost overruns of Phase 2, this outdoor space is not in the current budget. Given the community focus of this outdoor facility, we will likely turn to external fundraising and sponsorship efforts to bring this to life - so be on the lookout for these opportunities.  

 

Hopefully, this gives some level of an answer to the question we regularly get, “How are things with the Staunton Innovation Hub?”  The short answer: It’s very much alive and well, and just going through some growing pains that we will overcome.  We look forward to celebrating with you the day the doors open to the entire campus.  We look forward to the outdoor events on the downtown plaza, the conversations on the rooftop deck overlooking our beautiful valley, to the inspiration that will be found inside these walls.  What drives me the most is knowing that because of this effort, because of this community's support, we’re going to be an asset to the Shenandoah Valley. I look forward to the moment when someone walks up to one of our team members, stakeholders, investors, or partners and asks “Hey, weren’t you a part of bringing the Staunton Innovation Hub to life?  If so, I just want to say ‘thank you’. It’s because of that ecosystem that I live here and my dreams came to life.”  

We will include photos and renderings of the project below.  If you have any questions, please reach out to me at [email protected] .  

 

To making dreams come to life,

 

Peter Denbigh

Interim Director

Staunton Innovation Hub

540-212-9595 Option 2


Pictures of Phase 1 in action:

 

SIH Lunch and Learn, Topic "Termsheet Bootcamp":

 

SIH Bookclub meeting at 32N:

 

 

 

 

 Rendering of Phase 2 entrance as seen from Augusta St:




Rendering of Phase 2 common area after coming through main entrance:



Rendering of Mary Baldwin space in Phase 2:




Early rendering of a private office corridor in Phase 2:



Photorealistic rendering of Phase 2 common space:

 

Photorealistic rendering of Phase 2 common space:



Rendering of Central Ave facade of Phase 2:

 

 

Photorealistic rendering of a fun, quirky conference room in Phase 2:

 

Photorealistic rendering of a professional conference room in Phase 2:




Rendering of Phase 3 Plaza as seen from Augusta St:

 

Rendering of Phase 3 Plaza as seen from Augusta St: