An elderly couple has offered to donate 180 acres of land in Prince William County to the state of Virginia as a possible site for a proposed multimillion dollar university and research facility. Within hours, the city of Manassas Park and a company that officials have declined to identify made their own bid for the facility site.
B. Oswald Robinson, 73, a lifelong resident of Prince William, said he wants his family's farm land used for the Center for Innovative Technology, a newly proposed facility that Gov. Charles S. Robb said he hopes will link the state's leading universities and its high-technology industries.
"We wanted to make the land available for something that would benefit young people," said Robinson, a former principal of Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna. He and his wife, Adria Robinson, said Friday that the state could choose between two parcels of their land--30 acres on Wellington Road off I-66 and a 150-acre tract on Rte. 15 near Haymarket.
Seven years ago the Robinsons offered the same 150-acre tract, valued at $600,000, to Northern Virginia Community College, but a site selection committee chose another parcel closer to Manassas.
"Back when there was segregation, our families couldn't go to the movies or the restaurants, so they put their money into land," said Robinson, a black man with a keen sense of history who lives on the edge of the Manassas battlefield. "We want that land to go to something good, not turned into more town houses."
Shortly after the Robinsons' offer was disclosed at a news conference by State Del. Harry Parrish, the two other possible sites for the center were offered. State Sen. Charles Colgan said Friday afternoon that the county hopes to have four or five possible sites lined up before the state site-selection committee is appointed.
Robb announced last week that he has proposed building a facility for up to $30 million in Northern Virginia, the center of much of the state's high technology industry, but he did not say exactly where the facility would be.
George W. Johnson, president of George Mason University near Fairfax City, immediately called for the center to be placed on his campus--"a logical choice," he said.
But some Prince William officials said George Mason will have to vie with other sites for the center, coveted for both the prestige and potential drawing power for jobs and outside industry. "We plan to be very aggressive with the hope the center will be placed here in the county and not at George Mason," said Colgan. "We're really going to put Prince William in the picture."
George M. Stoddart, a spokesman from the governor's office in Richmond, said the governor is pleased with the Robinsons' offer to donate land.
"Obviously the selection committee will take a good look at donated land," Stoddart said. "Prince William houses IBM, so it is very active in the technology scheme. The Robinson offer will be taken seriously."
By Friday afternoon the mayor of Manassas Park had called his own news conference to announce that 400 acres of city-owned land near the Bull Run Reservoir is "available" as a center site.
Mayor Wendall R. Hite stopped short, though, of offering to donate the land. "I said it was available," he said Friday. "That may be a sale, a lease or whatever. It's just that I heard about this center and said to myself, 'My Lord, we've got 400 acres out there we've been trying to sell that would be just perfect.' "
Colgan also said Friday that a private company had telephoned him and offered to donate land in Prince William for the center. He said the company asked not to be identified unless the offer is formally approved by the company's board of directors.
"All I can say is that it's several hundred acres in the eastern end of the county, near the Beltway," Colgan said.