Friday, August 2, 2013

City Council: 'Give Ed the Damn Building!'

This is the downtown Roanoke building Ed Walker wants to buy for $10.
Ed Walker, the lawyer/developer that I have no doubt should be appointed King of Roanoke, has asked City Council to sell him the old health department building for $10 so he can develop it. City Council should not even stop to think about it. Give Ed the damn building.

His history is one of extraordinary success in renovating weary properties that almost nobody else wanted and turning them into economic engines. He's done it all over town: the Colonial American
Bank building, Patrick Henry Hotel, the Cotton Mill Lofts, and the Hancock Building. Ed was the guy who was chairman of the board of the Grandin Theatre Foundation when it re-opened the theater and spurred development there.* His projects have all been altruistic to some degree--though he has not failed to make money. He has created low rent units in almost all of his projects and has an economically mixed clientele that would delight a social scientist.

Ed does this work because he enjoys it and because it is the right thing to do. When I was with FRONT magazine, Ed won our first For the Right Reasons Award because of his approach, his philosophy and his delivery.

The Health Department building is on the rough west end of downtown, an area Ed is already helping with a couple of developments. He wants to give Roanoke $10 for the building, which is 62 years old and was closed in 2007. The deal he's offering would require Ed to re-open it within three years or pay the city $140,000. The building is assessed at $618,700. Try to sell it for that--ha!

Ed has said he doesn't have a specific goal for the building, though according to a story in a local daily (here) traditional retail likely wouldn't work and residential/office might.

What Ed is asking is not unprecedented. Another developer, a fellow named Faisal Khan, recently made an offer like this for the old YMCA building nearby and he plans to renovate that into commercial space and about 50 apartments.

Give Ed the building. He'll do wonders with it. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

(* Great story about the Grandin: I was a board member at the time we were trying to talk Council into matching funds for re-opening the theater. Ralph Smith, the cranky, intellectually-challenged Republican state senator, was mayor at the time. Ed called the board together after the vote and announced, "Council just approved the funds on a unanimous 6-1 vote." Smith, of course, was the one.)

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