Saturday, September 17, 2011

Garland's Downtown Roanoke Vision Taking Shape

209 1st Street will hold apartments.

While the eyebrow-raising projects of developer Ed Walker have been making headlines, John Garland has simply been going to work, slugging away at revitalizing some of downtown Roanoke’s best old buildings. At the moment, he is nearly finished with four projects that should ultimately provide housing, a grocery store, various shops and offices.

Most of Garland's current projects are within a few blocks of each other and include 16 West (where the S&S Cafeteria once elegantly rested), 209  1st St. with its 12 upscale apartments; 1222 Campbell, a private home for his son Aaron, and 108 Campbell, an office-retail complex. Only the private home in a depressed section near Memorial Avenue is not downtown. 16 West has 35,000 square feet and is planned for eight apartments, a fitness center, grocery store, restaurant, coffee bar, food and retail bars. 209 1st St. is 12,000 square feet.

The total cost of the projects is “about $6 million,” says Garland.

Garland has had other award-winning reclamation projects, including a couple of 1920s era apartment complex renovations in Raleigh Court and most of what he's done has been less about business than personal interest.

Garland says the grocery store at 16 West will have a deli and he says, “Carilion has mentioned it may be interested in putting in one of its new compact pharmacies. I have been meaning to explore this further with [Carilion], but have not had time. We have the perfect place in the building for a pharmacy.”

108 Campbell will have mixed use.
Garland says financing was available through traditional venues, despite the economy, which probably says more about his history as a successful renovator than anything else. Garland owns Spectrum design. The projects pulled in funds from First Citizens, BB&T and Valley Bank. He has three partners for 16 West and one partner (Ken Ferris) on the other two downtown buildings. The private home is his. Garland says, “Having sound and financially stable partners is key for me. I don’t like to go it alone on significant projects. This spreads the risk, work and reward around.

“Spectrum Design continues to be my source of income and my primary occupation. Others are hobbies that take most of my free time. Paying down on my home mortgage and having a good home equity line with a 1.6 percent interest rate has helped. Financing has been extremely difficult because of severe new regulations, particularly for selling condos.”

Garland does not look for quick payback on the projects. “Most all projects of this type, unless they are sold, which we are not doing, are for the long haul,” says Garland. “They break even, at best, in the beginning. They make money after notes are paid down or when sold if rents continue to climb. None would be considered without the benefit of tax credits and enterprise zone, since they would be money losers. My kids will be the beneficiaries.”

The opening of the Roanoke City Market Building will have some positive impact, Garland believes. “Any new activity and positive development in downtown has a positive outcome for my developments. My personal opinion is that the market building could have been so much more for downtown Roanoke. Architecturally, it is mediocre and what it was previously is much more pleasing and warm. They intentionally took it back to the meat market look [with] concrete floors, white glazed brick, stainless steel counters, etc. It is a cold institutional space and it deserved much more.

“[It is] quite disappointing to me and others that I have talked to. And to open with one vendor that sells fried food. I hope it gets better soon.”

Spectrum Design was one of the local architectural and engineering firms whose design for the Market Building the City of Roanoke rejected in favor of the proposal of an out-of-town firm. Many believed the Spectrum ideas were far superior and they came from Roanoke natives who understood the Market Building, its history and its value to the Roanoke Valley and the region.
A grocery store is planned at 16 West.

Downtown is a mess of construction on nearly every street, but Garland says, “My own delays in construction have been my biggest impediment. The [downtown] construction means exciting things ahead and will ultimately assist in renting spaces. Office space rental is dismal. Apartments fill up immediately. Retail is almost non-existent.

“We have eight food/retail spaces to fill at 16 West, but have intentionally waited until the fitness center and grocery store open. We have a couple of residential condos for sale that have been problematic. We have 108 office/retail condos to sell, which have also been problematic.

“We [all] desperately need to see retail be successful in downtown Roanoke.”

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