Wednesday, October 28, 2009

DRI President Confident in Face of Construction

Roanoke's new Market Square Parking Garage will be finished soon, just in time for construction to start elsewhere^

Got a chance to chat a bit this a.m. with the new president/CEO of Downtown Roanoke Inc., who's stepping into a real challenge with City Market effectively scheduled for massive construction over the next three years.

Sean Luther, a 27-year-old who looks younger, says the construction will be a challenge "but that's pretty much why I was hired. It's something we've been dealing with in Pittsburgh for several months and I'm in the process of developing a plan."

My guess is that he'll come up with something, but will it be something that will work in Roanoke--which distinctly is not Pittsburgh, a city with a considerably larger downtown area. The development in Roanoke, which will encompass both sides of Campbell Ave. at once and will have several satellite projects (including the one based at the Patrick Henry Hotel, where Sean and I met this morning), is occupying a relatively large percentage of the geographic area of the center of the city. It will also involve the rehabilitation of two of its most significant points of interest: Center in the Square and City Market Building.

There has been a great deal of talk about displacing the farmers on the market and the vendors in the Market Building. As significant as that disrpution is, it could be even more severe for the businesses in stand-alone locations: the restaurants, boutiques, offices and the like whose daily routines will be severely disrupted with everything from noise and dust to vanishing parking spaces in a place that is often a parking challenge.

Ed Walker's Patrick Henry Hotel project, which will result in about 100 new rental units ranging in price from $500-$1,000, should be up and running in about a year and a half--half the estimated time required to repair the two main buildings. What will that do to the leasing potential for the apartments?

Laura Bradford, who owns Claire V and just started work to open a boutique portion of her shop in the former Good Things on the Market candy shop, expressed a good bit of fear about what she's facing, being right in the path of the construction. "I didn't really know about it until I saw the article in the paper this morning," she says. "It's really scary. We're putting a lot of money into this place."

Told that there was an assurance no new major construction would start until after the Christmas season, she said, "At least there's that."

Luther seemed confident, though. We'll see how it shakes out.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't yet met Sean Luther, but I would be very surprised if it were to solely his charge to develop an implementation plan for an array of uncoordinated projects within our Downtown core.

    DRI began in 1960 as a downtown merchants' association and thru a property tax surcharge in the early 1980's was deemed to represent the interests of property owners as well. As a downtown area advocacy group, DRI has shined over the past twenty years.

    DRI has not been, except on occasion, by default, grown as an urban design & planning organization. Past redundancies between DRI & City Government Administration emphasize a lack of mutual cooperation in planning.

    For the past 30 years, our city has been focused on growing the biggest pumpkin with very little thought to cultivating the garden. As a caring community member, I say, let's not, once again, expect someone to clean up our mess.

    Its up to us. Please join The Heart of Roanoke to open a continuing forum over issues like these that clearly will have a lasting impact on our city and our environment.