Thursday, November 17, 2011

Looking for Ideas for a Downtown Business Center

John Garland, center, talks to about 25 people at the meeting downtown tonight.
Downtown Roanoke's innovative development community continues to bend the norm. Tonight at Spectrum Design, just off City Market, John Garland and two of his business partners, called together a diverse group of people to talk about the future of the Marketplace Center. This is the old S&W Cafeteria building that Garland and his posse bought two years ago with the goal of creating a center for shopping and health.

It has not worked out that way to date because a couple of businesses that committed to locate in the building backed out. It's not exactly back to Square 1 for Garland, et. al., but it's maybe Square 3 or 4. The unusual nature of tonight's meeting is that Garland was looking for suggestions, information, ideas from people who live and work on City Market and a couple of others that might be interested in investing.

It was a lively meeting full of free-flowing ideas and even some nay-saying, but Garland came away energized.

The primary thrust for the investors, says Garland, is to get activity going in the building. "We're not approaching it with the profit motive," he insists. "We want to see downtown be successful." That success would flow over into several properties Garland owns, most of them combining living space and business offices or stores.

Among the innovations he's offering is to help some of the businesses with centalized services. "We have investors who'll support [the businesses]," he says. "We'll put you in business." High on the wish list is specialty foods that would be a complement to an online grocery store, which appears to be ready to occupy one of the spaces at the back of the building.

There are a number of spaces of various sizes and  and even four kiosk possibilities.

There are 1,200 people living downtown these days and 9,000 more who work there. That's a small town, one, in fact, that is about twice the size of Vinton.

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