by Gene Marrano
Roanoke developer Ed Walker has said that the River House project he is undertaking at 806 Wasena Avenue might be the “last” major one for the man behind the Patrick Henry Hotel, the Cotton Mill and the Hancock building make-overs. If so he intends to go out with a bang.
Sitting adjacent to the Roanoke River Greenway between Smith and Wasena Parks, Walker and his Regeneration Partners company is turning the former storage facility – a makeshift shelter for the homeless in recent years – into 128 apartments, a restaurant and other commercial spaces. Walker and his design crew, which has worked together on projects in downtown Roanoke, are looking for an “urban, edgy feel,” according to interior designer Cameron Harris.
The 1 and 2 bedroom units offered, priced from $520 to $1300 a month (slightly less for those that make a commitment before the end of April) feature granite countertops, bamboo flooring and custom cabinets. Each floor of the five story structure will have a different feel and look. There’s a fitness center and parking on site. Walker and members of his staff gave an update on the River House on Monday, when he said they are shooting for an opening day sometime this summer.
Who or what will occupy the 2600 sq. ft. restaurant space has not been decided. Walker is hoping that local parties with something unique to offer will step up. “All we care about is that they be outstanding in their field,” said Walker, who envisions a bistro and bar not just for tenants of the building, but a place where greenway users will cross the low water bridge at Wasena and head up to the River House for lunch or a beer. “Everybody that has walked into my office utilizes the greenway,” said leasing manager Michelle Rose.
Walker said the major selling point for the River House (about a third of the units are already leased) may be its unique location: next to the Roanoke River Greenway and about two miles equidistant from Mill Mountain, downtown, Grandin Village and the Carilion campus. “[That’s about] 80 percent of what’s interesting [in Roanoke],” noted Walker. He envisions River House as a home to those interested in the outdoors, people who might want to bike or walk the two miles to some of those destinations. “[It’s] a really interesting and dynamic urban experience for residents.”
The man behind Kirk Avenue Music Hall and the CityWorks organization also hopes that the River House makeover will spark revitalization in what Walker called the Wasena Urban Village. The River House may spark that rebirth he noted or at least provide “some strengthening.” Walker had the future apartment building and 450 surrounding houses designated as a historic district, meaning that state and federal tax credits could be made available for renovations, if the structure is more than 50 years old. Now a downtown resident, Walker has a soft spot for Wasena as a former resident: “I lived in this area for 12 years and loved it.”
“[This is] the project I’ve been most excited about for the longest period of time,” said Walker. For a developer that has helped transform downtown Roanoke in recent years, that’s saying something. (see roanokeriverhouse.com for more information.)