Many cities around the country have undergone a renaissance of downtown living, entertainment and recreation in the past decade. The rising costs of commuting and peripheral living combined with an increased focus on making downtown areas safe and desireable has begun to reverse the trend of the "edge city" and shift the national momentum back towards downtown living. Census data shows, for the first time in decades, an upward trend in population growth in urban areas compared to the suburbs. The positive externalities associated with this growth are various, but can be generally agreed upon as good. For example, living in more dense, walkable neighborhoods reduces vehicle miles traveled to and from work etc., increases health and wellbeing, and allows a social fabric to develop among people that otherwise might not have met. These issues all have their detractors, but it is this author's opinion that good planning and proper policy can make downtown areas extremely enjoyable places to live, work and play.
As a place near and dear to my heart, I have decided to document some projects in Roanoke, Virginia to illustrate what I mean by a "downtown renaissance". I recently toured the downtown Roanoke area to compile a photo-documentary of recent development that is transforming the personality of the urban core. As there are currently too many exciting projects in downtown Roanoke to write about here, I will set several qualifications for a project to make this particular entry.
* The project must be in downtown Roanoke or an associated neighborhood.
* The project must be funded primarily with private investment.
* The project must represent a radical change from the building/place's previous use.
* The project must contribute in a meaningful way to Roanoke's sense of place.
The following photos provide a taste of what is happening and its potential implications to the downtown urban fabric.
1 - Carilion Clinic Biomedical Research Park:
Carilion Clinic, the largest employer in the Roanoke valley, is currently undertaking one of the largest development projects in the city's history. The research park will include a medical school, labs and offices, parking structures, and other health-care related facilities. The project has already spawned new projects in the vicinity and will anchor a new part of downtown.
More info: http://www.vtc.vt.edu/
2 - The Hancock:
This former dry-goods warehouse turned Grand Home Furnishings department store shuttered in the early 2000's. Its original facade had been bricked over, but was uncovered by the construction team to reveal its beautiful terra-cotta design and original windows. The renovation, completed in 2007, was one of the first large residential developments downtown offering rental units and is seen by many as the beginning of Roanoke's successful downtown renaissance.
More info: http://thehancockbuilding.com/3 - The Cotton Mill Lofts:
An old cotton mill overlooking downtown Roanoke completed renovation in 2009 and offers high-end rental units. The interior features the original hardwood floors and large windows overlooking downtown. The project helps bring a previously run-down neighborhood back into style.
More info: http://www.thecottonmilllofts.com/
4 - The Patrick Henry Hotel:
A once-elegant hotel that has fallen into disrepair in recent years occupies this prime piece of real estate along Jefferson Street, a main downtown artery. The hotel has been vacant for several years now and the exterior shows signs of decay. Fortunately, a local real estate developer with a history of successful renovation projects has purchased the property and plans to invest heavily in improvements. The conceptual plan for the building calls for commercial retail and restaurant space on the ground floor, offices, and up to 104 new apartments on the upper floors. Once completed, the project will act as an anchor for the quickly redeveloping Jefferson Street corridor.
More info: http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/224091Numerous other projects in the works include the renovation of an historic train station, a Ford Model-T warehouse converted to apartments, and the LEED Platinum renovation of an office building: