Other Downtown Make-overs Worry Some

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DRI’s Doug Waters (left) and Roanoke City’s Brian Townsend discuss downtown renovation plans at the Science Museum of Western Virginia on Tuesday.
DRI’s Doug Waters (left) and Roanoke City’s Brian Townsend discuss downtown renovation plans at the Science Museum of Western Virginia on Tuesday.

Roanoke City officials and project designers wanted to talk about what lies ahead for several downtown renovation projects. What they got was another earful from Farmer’s Market and City Market Building vendors, worried that their livelihoods will be in jeopardy if they are forced to shut down while major renovations take place over the next four years.

Assistant City Manager Brian Townsend played master of ceremonies for Tuesday’s meeting, attended by about 50 people. He and executives from Spectrum Design and others talked about Center in the Square, the Market Building (food court) and Farmer’s Market renovations, which will total almost $40 million.

Before that the oft delayed, 500-space Market garage will open by March, according to Townsend, including 10,000 feet of first floor retail space. Next door, at old Fire Station #1, Townsend said the City is “considering some proposals” from non-profits for use of the building. Meanwhile Center in the Square will undergo a “complete renovation,” per project manager Chris Venable of Spectrum Design.

That includes HVAC, lighting and other mechanical system updates. Footage freed up by the now-departed Art Museum means the organizations left there and the Harrison Museum of African American Art, slated to move in, have more space to divvy up.

Venable said construction at Center in the Square, which includes improved sidewalks, a new façade and the installation of a butterfly garden on the roof, will take place while “trying to minimize the impact,” on adjacent Farmer’s Market vendors. “You’ve got to protect your vendors,” pleaded Charlie Lavinder, who sells produce grown locally on the market.

The $6.3 million City Market building makeover will reduce the number of vendor stands from ten and will enlarge the eight that remain, and will add four non-food retail booths as well. New bathrooms on the bottom floor and a smaller mezzanine will make the place more open and airy, according to city engineer Phil Schirmer. “[We want] to preserve as much of the existing building architecture as possible,” noted Schirmer.

Burger in the Square owner Anita Wilson was skeptical of any plan to relocate food court vendors somewhere else for a while, “there’s no temporary relocation once you move,” she said, noting the high cost of grill hoods for starters: $35,000-$40,000.

A HUD grant of $245,000 will pay for changes to the Farmer’s Market area, according to interim Downtown Roanoke Incorporated president Doug Waters.  He noted “a number of concerns that people had,” about temporary displacements of market stalls and said Downtown Roanoke Inc. was “working hard to find a plan that has input from the vendors… and stores.”

Some vendors voiced those concerns again after the formal presentation ended.  “Where are [we] supposed to go?” asked one. “We’ll work with vendors,” promised Townsend.

“There’s a lot to be going on,” said Townsend, who added that the city would be analyzing impacts on traffic, public rest room access, pedestrian routes, trash collection and other issues as construction begins.

By Gene Marrano
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