MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia University and R.E. Michel Co. have agreed to a property exchange that will clear the way for the next phase of development at the University's Research Park off Route 705, WVU officials announced last week.

The agreement calls for R.E. Michel, a national wholesaler in HVAC products, to relocate its business from Maple Drive at the entrance to the park to a 1.5 acre parcel on the Mileground -- now owned by the University.

WVU will construct a new building for R.E. Michel on the Mileground in exchange for the Maple Drive property, said Russ Lorince, director of economic development at WVU.

"The 1.5 acre parcel where R.E. Michel is now located is where we hope to build one of the internal roadways in the research park," Lorince said. "This agreement will allow us to continue with development, which really has been on hold during the negotiating process. This is very good news."

The Monongalia County Development Authority will serve as intermediary for the property exchange, Lorince explained. No money will exchange hands in the transaction.

"Now that we have this agreement in place, we can proceed with securing contractors for the second phase of development of the park and construction of our first building," Lorince said. "That work should begin later this spring with completion of the first building sometime in the summer of 2007."

Second phase development of the 88-acre site includes roadway and utility corridor work, including a new four-way lighted intersection at Route 705. This work will occur simultaneously with construction of the initial 60-thousand-square-foot structure. The first phase of development, which included major excavation work, was completed early last year.

"The first building will dedicate 20,000 square feet to the WVU Business Incubator and provide about 40,000 square feet of leasable space," Lorince said. "We anticipate businesses in the building will generate over 200 jobs over the next several years."

WVU's long-term goal for the park includes a 650,000-square-foot expansion over the next 10-15 years to accommodate a total of 2,600 jobs.

Around $9 million in funding from the WVU Research Corp. and a $3 million low-interest loan from the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council are paying for initial development and construction. In addition, a total of $658,000 has been committed from the West Virginia Development Office's Industrial Access Road Program, with the assistance of the Monongalia County Development Authority. Officials say grants, loans, revenue generated from leasing park space, and public-private collaborations involving the park will all help to fund future development.

"The mission of the WVU Research Park is to create an environment to foster innovation, commercialization and economic competitiveness," Lorince said. "We will do this through collaboration among universities, industry and government. The Research Park is another step forward in the overall University mission to be a catalyst for economic development in this state and region. We're excited to be moving forward with this initiative."

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