Mixed-use project to extend downtown Roanoke while improving public access to river
Developers have broken ground on a multi-year, mixed-use development that includes new apartments, restaurants, offices and retail space on the site of a former mill and scrap yard – the largest development of its kind in Roanoke.
The 22-acre project, named The Bridges, will expand downtown Roanoke along South Jefferson Street, complementing the Virginia Tech-Carilion School of Medicine & Research Institute and Riverside office complex currently across the street, as well as an adjacent site under the Walnut Street bridge.
Over the next decade, The Bridges is planned to grow to 1 million square feet of residential, retail and office space that will connect downtown with the Roanoke River to create a destination that will include a public river walk, kayak launch and riverfront dining.
Construction is set to begin in June.
“The Bridges has the potential to further transform Roanoke into a vibrant, livable city where people of all ages can live, work and play in an area designed for convenience and connectivity,” said Bern Ewert, former Roanoke city manager who envisioned the project and co-founder of Roanoke River Associates, which founded the project. “Providing additional public access to the river is a crucial component of this project as we extend downtown, further building upon new and revitalized construction that has increased the number of downtown residents and dining options.
“This bold project took the work of a lot of people and organizations, and we are grateful for the unwavering support and cooperation of Carilion Clinic, the City of Roanoke and the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority to clear and prepare the land for development,” Ewert added.
The Bridges name is a nod to two wide and distinctive bridges (Jefferson Street and Walnut Street) bisecting the development. The name also refers to how the project will extend the downtown core to South Jefferson Street and the surrounding neighborhoods.
“Symbolically, as our city moves from its industrial heritage to an economy built on knowledge, medicine and technology, The Bridges connotes how the city is moving forward by crossing an important bridge,” Ewert added. “As this project transforms a former industrial site to one of life, ideas and innovation, it’s very much a bridge to our future.”
“This is a major milestone in Roanoke’s history,” added Roanoke Mayor David Bowers. “The development team has a track record of creating vibrant, active and dynamic multi-use projects by preserving the character and history of older buildings and creating new options. This project is crucial to connecting downtown to the river – a key step for any great river city. Great cities have great downtowns, and many of them have rivers. We will soon be able to say we are one of them, bringing new energy and vitality to our riverfront as we continue to redefine our future.”
Phase I: Restaurant, apartment building, office space and river walk
The Bridges is being developed by Richmond-based WVS Companies, which purchased Roanoke River Associates and has worked on numerous projects that reuse existing buildings and amenities to create new communities. The property is ideally located to serve employees at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital as well as employees and students of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute and the Jefferson College of Health Sciences. WVS is the developer of Rocketts Landing in Richmond, an urban community on the banks of the James River.
The property is divided into two sections – the Jefferson Street District and the River District – with three blocks and two points of access to South Jefferson Street. The first phase of The Bridges will include a 6,684-square-foot restaurant/coffee house, office space and a 139,084-square-foot, 157-unit apartment building along South Jefferson Street. It will include a public promenade along the river, kayak launch, sidewalks and streetscapes.
The project has received $10 million in financing from the City of Roanoke for public infrastructure such as riverside park, sidewalks, landscaping and new roadways within the triangular-shaped site.
The restaurant/coffee house will be located in an existing building that once was part of a lumber yard. The look of the historic building, located on the southern end of the property, will be preserved during its rehabilitation as a dining hotspot.
The new apartment building, to be constructed on a new frontage road, will include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and lower-level parking. The project is targeting both working professionals and students with a modern, industrial aesthetic appeal to contrast with historical structures on the property. The apartments will include an on-site leasing office, meeting room, game room, fitness center and club room. A courtyard will include a trellised seating area, built-in gas grills, fire pit, water feature and lawn.
The apartments feature a contemporary design, with an exterior coated metal and large, partially enclosed balconies with metal railings and side metal panels and large windows.
The first phase also will include 31,000 square feet of rehabilitated commercial space in two of the six historic structures slated for adaptive reuse on the site. One of them includes the Trolley Barn, close to the Walnut Street bridge. It’s an ideal location for a microbrewery, gym or creative space.
The Trolley Barn housed street trolleys during the early 20th century and with its concrete construction, high ceilings and numerous skylights is planned to be multi-tenanted space located along the river walk.
Also planned – an office complex ideal for medical-related businesses, financial services companies, start-ups and other service companies. This new construction will front South Jefferson Street with three stories of office and retail space on top of ground-level parking.
Phase II: Additional retail, housing and entertainment options available
If successful, The Bridges development will extend to the former site of Virginia Bridge & Ironworks property for additional retail, entertainment and housing options.
“This development has everything we look for in a mixed-use project,” says Jason Vickers-Smith, owner of WVS. “Our team loves the Blue Ridge Mountains and we enjoy the ease of doing business in this friendly region. We are excited to break ground on a project that will change the landscape of Roanoke for future generations to enjoy.”
“We are confident that WVS can achieve long-term success based on the company’s proven developments to reintroduce abandoned or historic property to the public,” Ewert added. “The Bridges will play a major role in Roanoke’s current adaptive reuse movement found throughout our urban core. Along with our existing recreational amenities such as the greenway, Mill Mountain Park and River’s Edge Sports Complex, The Bridges will become a destination for the Roanoke Valley for decades to come.”