Martha Jefferson site to welcome new tenant: C’ville biotech firm HemoShear

Renovations of the former Martha Jefferson hospital are in full swing, and the most recently announced tenant, biotech firm HemoShear, says it plans to beat initial site partner CFA Institute to its ribbon cutting. Photo by Elli Williams. Renovations of the former Martha Jefferson hospital are in full swing, and the most recently announced tenant, biotech firm HemoShear, says it plans to beat initial site partner CFA Institute to its ribbon cutting. Photo by Elli Williams.

The former Martha Jefferson Hospital campus stands to get another shot in the arm in the coming weeks.

HemoShear, a Charlottesville biotech company that helps drug manufacturers more accurately simulate human environments, said January 22 it plans to become the site’s next tenant. The announcement comes on the heels of the CFA Institute beginning construction on the former hospital’s South Wing last November.

HemoShear said it has reached an agreement with property owner Octagon Partners to lease 14,800 square feet for its laboratory and commercial offices on the top floor of the Cardwell Center, located on the northeast side of the four-square-block lot. The company is eyeing a mid-2013 move-in, pending the outcome of a February 12 city council hearing on its special use permit for a 4,000-plus square foot medical laboratory. If it meets the deadline, HemoShear will beat CFA to the neighborhood by several months.

“We would like to [begin construction] as quickly as possible,” said Nicole Hastings, HemoShear’s vice president of operations. “We’re actively working to get in there.”

HemoShear is actively working on a lot of things. Currently headquartered in the Fry’s Spring area, the company was founded in 2008 to bring to market an invention by University of Virginia professors Brett Blackman and Brian Wamhoff: a man-made vascular system that recreates conditions in the human body, offering a proving ground for drugs and other medical technologies.

“A lot of testing that is being done by pharmaceutical companies uses animal models or very naïve cell-based systems,” Hastings said. “They are not recreating what’s going on in a human. We are as close to a human as you can be.”

While Hastings said HemoShear has some competition for recreating certain organ systems, the company has grown quickly and become a leader in the field of human mimicry. Its efforts were rewarded last December when three of its executives were named winners of the Center for Innovative Technology’s GAP 50 Entrepreneur Awards, given to individuals in Virginia-based companies with high growth and job creation potential. Hence the need for a new home.

“Our primary goal in moving into this space was that it would allow us to continue to grow down the line,” Hastings said. “It’s not predictable, but every year we have just about doubled in size.”

On the other side of the lot from Hemo-Shear’s future offices, CFA’s renovation of the former Martha Jefferson South Wing is in full swing. The top three floors of the property’s tallest structure, the Patterson building, have been gutted, and the sounds of heavy construction can be heard in the surrounding neighborhood from dawn to dusk —the zip of a power saw at 7:30 a.m., the crunch of full-scale demolition at 3:15 p.m.

Unlike HemoShear, CFA now owns its chunk of the property outright and is helping fund the renovations with a 50 percent property tax break granted by the city in exchange for bringing 400 jobs with a minimum average salary of $75,000 into Charlottesville. CFA spokesperson Sarah Jane Purvis said the company had no updates on the timeline it announced last November, when it said construction would be completed in the fall of 2013, and declined to comment on the arrival of a new tenant. The institute has delayed its projected move-in date by about six months since it purchased the property in June 2011.

Others involved in the renovation confirmed construction is moving forward as planned. Living Machine, a Charlottesville-based company tapped to develop a green wastewater treatment system for CFA’s new LEED-certified structure, said it had no reason to believe the project was anything other than on track to meet the new timeline. The company is “just waiting for the right stage of construction” before installing its system, according to Will Kirksey, Living Machine’s global development officer.

Mark Mascotte, a commercial real estate broker for MFM Partners LLC who administered the agreement between HemoShear and Octagon, agreed CFA’s renovation appeared to be “ripping along and right on schedule.”

“They are completely retrofitting that entire [space], so it will take some time,” Mascotte said. “It is going to be a beautiful building and a spectacular headquarters. They are a perfect user for that site.”

For HemoShear’s part, Hastings said CFA’s progress was of little concern—the two renovations are completely different projects on different timelines.

“We look forward to seeing the entire space,” Hastings said. “But we are not worried about other groups.”

If all goes well for HemoShear on February 12, the company’s move into the old Cardwell Center will effectively end the debate about how the center, which had been rumored to be earmarked for a hotel, will be used going forward.

“The [former] Cardwell Center will be a multi-tenant commercial office,” Mascotte said.

The only remaining variables for Martha Jefferson’s repurposing appear to be related to the Rucker building, which Mascotte said most likely will be used for rental apartments, and any additional residents of the Cardwell Center.

“We have two or three tenants interested,” Mascotte said. “We’re hoping to have continued success and build on the Hemo-
Shear lease to get good people in there.”

Mascotte would not disclose the names of the prospective tenants but called them “large square foot users.” The available square footage could be limited by the growth of HemoShear though, as the company will have first right of refusal on additional space in the building before other businesses move in.

For now, walking north on Locust Avenue from High Street is a bit like going from the emergency room to the morgue, as the busy sounds of construction give way to the faded lettering of “Cardwell Center” on the entrance of the north-side building.

The one sign of life is a bill advertising the upcoming hearing on HemoShear’s special use permit.

“We are still awaiting approval,” Hastings said. “But we do not [expect] it will hold us back from moving forward with construction.”—Shea Gibbs

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