Build out: Three companies now calling the old Martha Jefferson site home

Biotech startup HemoShear and medical device manufacturer Varian now occupy the former Cardwell Center at what was once Martha Jefferson Hospital’s main campus. Photo: Max March Biotech startup HemoShear and medical device manufacturer Varian now occupy the former Cardwell Center at what was once Martha Jefferson Hospital’s main campus. Photo: Max March

It’s been almost four years since Martha Jefferson Hospital sold its Locust Avenue property to developer Octagon Partners and moved to a new Pantops campus. Now, in a milestone for redevelopment in Charlottesville, the commercial overhaul of the site is coming to a halt.

The main hospital building was occupied by CFA Institute in December of last year. That relocation happened in the wake of a sweeping renovation, funded in part by a tax break agreement with the city.

Other commercial occupants are making the old hospital site home, too. The former Cardwell Center—which is four stories tall with an interior space of 69,000 square-feet—now houses two companies that got their start in the city.

Varian Medical Systems Inc., an international medical device manufacturer, has moved into the first two floors of the Cardwell building. The company’s Charlottesville branch began as an independent startup, Multimedia Medical Systems, Inc. (MMS), which pioneered a process of mapping the body to allow for targeted radiation therapy for cancer patients. Varian bought the company in 1999. Hosea Mitchell, the company’s vice president and general manager, has been onboard since the early MMS days, and said the new location is an improvement over the company’s old home in a restored silk mill on Harris Street.

“It was definitely important to me to keep us in this city,” said Mitchell. “I have great affection for Charlottesville and was very happy to find a way to keep us in town.” 

But he said the company’s growth and acquisition by a Fortune 500 company necessitated the move to a more professional space. 

The ground floor is home to technical support, the help desk, regulatory affairs and quality assurance, manufacturing, and testing. There are Varian employees there to train and help patients with the software and technical aspects of its various medical products. Engineering and business administration comprise the second floor. Coincidentally, Varian is located in what used to be the cancer wing of the hospital. “The infrastructure of the hospital didn’t really help that much, but it’s really neat,” said Mitchell.

Two floors up is HemoShear, a company native to Charlottesville specializing in man-made vascular cells. Researchers there have pioneered a methodology that uses machines to recreate the conditions of the human body for more accurate drug testing. The company began the transition from its old location on Fifth St. SW in the Fry’s Spring neighborhood on May 17, and hopes to transfer all operations to the new space by August.

“It was a great place for us to get started,” said HemoShear Vice President of Operations Nicole Hastings of the old location. “We never anticipated outgrowing that space…but we realized if we continued [our current] trajectory we would need to relocate.”

HemoShear’s is a forward-thinking layout devoid of cubicles and other hallmarks of the modern office. The laboratory is adjacent to office spaces for ease of access, and the floorplan scales back on corridors and doorways. “Our laboratory is essentially one large room…there are no hallways. There are connections to the rooms that people need to access. It’s a much more progressive layout.”

CFA, HemoShear, and Varian are settling into their new digs, but work at the old hospital hasn’t completely ceased. There’s more makeover to come: The former Rucker Wing, initially built in 1954, is still on track to become residential units, according to Octagon Partners’ J.P. Williamson. “It’ll be apartments probably by the end of the year,” he said.—Adam Turay

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