New-age/hi-tech: Astec Center offers both

ADDRESS: Avon Court

ASKING: $2,750,000

SIZE: 30,000 fin. sq. ft.


NEIGHBORHOOD: Avon Street Ext.

CURB APPEAL: 2 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Bill Howard Real Estate III 817-1240

Mindful that it's nearly April and our readers are about to reap big windfalls from the Bush tax cuts, On the Block went looking for a creative place for you to sink your bundle. An investment property seemed like just the ticket.

The Astec Center isn't just on the block, it is the block. It's out on Avon Street, which presents many advantages, especially for certain kinds of high-tech businesses: places that need lots of space (30,000 square feet), quick access from major highways for delivery trucks, and state of the art security and fire systems, among others.

Right now, the place, zoned "light industrial," is 60 percent leased, so potential buyers will probably be either businesses that want to own the building and use the remaining 8,000 square feet for their own work, or investors who want the rental income and can spend time trying to fill that empty space. Most of the current leases are multi-year, which should ease the burden of drumming up tenants.

What about the building itself? The brick, metal, and stucco "clear-span" structure was built and occupied in 1984; a 20,000 sq.-ft. addition went on in 1989. The standing seam metal roof is rated MR-24. It's "fully sprinkled" and wired for "redundant fiber optics." All this is important if you're in the biotech biz, which is what most occupants in the past have been.

It's heated by natural gas and heat pump, fully air conditioned, and the five "built-out wet labs" have chemical resistant counters and sinks, benches, and exhaust hoods, just like that chemistry lab back in high school. Here's a biggie: The extra-reinforced flooring is industrial rated, and can bear 200 pounds/square foot of live load.

So. You have this huge industrial-strength building sitting on over two acres just minutes from downtown. (According to the agent, the only equivalent is miles up Route 29 in Northfork.) So what? Well, if you're into bioengineering, electronics, or pharmaceuticals, as several recent and current tenants are, those "built-out labs" are the draw.

But what really goes on here? Apparently, all manner of exciting research and development. "Bath production" of pharmaceuticals is one intriguing activity. More ominously, one of the spaces offers a walk-in vault with "class A safe door," "SCIF security shielding," and "bullet resistant walls, windows, and door."

Tenants have included companies with such sci-fi names as Humagen, Biotage, A-Systems, BioSep Tec, Setagon, and Stereotaxis, as well as the more prosaic and decidedly un-hi-tech Mr. C's and Kappa Sigma (can they need the bullet-resistant walls?).

But the really interesting thing about the place is that in the midst of all this state-of-the-art 21st century science, the owner claims that the Astec Center also offers something new-agey and quasi spiritual: a "synergism" that has provided not only a solid, functional place for discovery and innovation, but also an aura or zeitgeist that almost assured that the undertakings would be successful.

In support of that dualism, Astec Center workers who need a break from their wet-sink experiments under those fume hoods can have lunch at a picnic table out back or take a walk on the Rivanna Trail just over the hill.

If you buy this place, we suggest you find a tenant who can do the science and bottle that synergism. Now, that would make millions!