Don’t call it a comeback: the rebirth of downtown Roanoke, VA

Located along the Roanoke River in a valley between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, Roanoke, VA in many ways embodies the idyllic beauty of southern Virginia.

Now, new investments and redevelopment of former brownfields are part of a robust revitalization effort in downtown Roanoke. Roanoke is changing and people are noticing.

“Ten years ago, 11 people lived in downtown Roanoke,” says City Manager Chris Morrill. “Now 1,200 do. Even two and a half years ago, people were talking about what Roanoke wasn’t, what it could have been if it had something else. Now people are taking pride in their communities, getting out more, making connections to downtown, going out to the farmer’s markets, and they love the greenways. There’s a definite sense of optimism, that we’re going in the right direction and creating the type of place where people want to live.”

New downtown apartments are filling up quickly, with many developments being completely pre-leased before they open. To complement the increasing number of downtown residents, the city has strategically invested in parks, better pedestrian and bicycle access, neighborhood libraries, two village centers, and multiple greenways connecting the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods, something that Morrill says people can’t get enough of.

Local leaders like Morrill are working to make sure Roanoke’s growth benefits the city and region as a whole. Luckily, they have some help from local residents and business leaders.

At the forefront are developers like Lucas Thornton and Ed Walker, recently profiled in a New York Times article about Roanoke’s revitalization. Taking advantage of the city’s robust historical tax credit program, Walker has invested in the repurposing of old buildings, putting money back into the downtown area’s built environment, and rehabilitating historical buildings.

Also part of this effort is the Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley. Composed of over 50 local public, private, and nonprofit organizations and funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Partnership is seeking to create a comprehensive vision for the region, promoting “economic vitality, environmental quality, and equal opportunity” as well as creating a model for inter-organizational cooperation in the Roanoke Valley to address issues of mutual concern.

“The Livable Roanoke Valley plan seeks to incorporate the region’s assets, its challenges, and the vision and priorities of its inhabitants into a comprehensive strategy ultimately to strengthen the region as a whole, providing a place where people want to live and where they can thrive,” says Jake Gilmer, the Partnership’s Project Manager.

“The plan is about making our community viable for the future and holding true to livability principles, restating them for ourselves, and placing emphasis where we think it would best benefit our region. We want to listen and be educated by the public. How do we make what people want more livable? That’s the question we’re trying to answer and what will ultimately make Roanoke and the entire region an even greater place to live.”

By making sure Roanoke grows in a smart, sustainable way, the Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley, the city of Roanoke and private developers are ensuring that the region will be stronger and better for the future. It’s a cause the Partnership has been able to rally support for, ensuring a bright future for the Roanoke Valley.

Projects like the Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley are made possible in part by the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Speak out for these important programs: click here to send a letter to your members of Congress.

Photo courtesy of flickr user victoriabelanger.