Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just how much money is enough to “bring Roanokers downtown”

Market Square

Market Square

UPDATE below from twitter conversation:

The Roanoke Times in a Thursday online and paper editorial has jumped on the happy train band wagon again telling city leaders to “go for” the over budget $1.2 million Market Square redo. The city will take $500,000 from the streetscapes fund to make up the shortfall.

Cost to transform Market Square to a pedestrian plaza rises

This money could cover the cost of additional trash compactors. Businesses have complained of lugging trash containers to the only one available and soon to be their only option.

But spending $1.2 million on Roanoke’s Market Square will bring more people downtown they say. Just how much improvement and money is it going to take to “bring more people downtown.” What is the saturation point that will finally satisfy?

Market Square swaps parking spaces for a more pedestrian focus

First it was “oh the $60 million Taubman Museum will bring in people from all over the world.” And that worked out so well. Then it was the Market Building redo at $7 million but softened with historical tax credits. The ambiance hasn’t satisfied all and the food prices are higher to adjust for higher tenant rent.

Center in the Square and the Western Virginia Museum  was suppose to be a boon but the cost has led it to be more of a swoon. The city has also assisted in that renovation with $500,000.

The $6 million Elmwood Park redo is said to be another boost for downtown. It has already been criticized for its “non-green” concrete uninviting look. Now we have a $1.2 million for Market Square that will be attractive I am sure but really – is it another “if we build it they will come.” At least the hotel on top of the parking garage only requires about $75,000 of city assistance for utilities.

Elmwood Park cost exceeds budget by $1 million

If you dance you will need a police officer to watch you so you don’t get naked or drink too much according to Chief Perkins. It must be getting pretty wild down there.

The average Roanoker can’t afford to eat at the expensive restaurants and even the Market Building is not the feeding trough bargain it use to be.

I do hope all this “hope and change” pans out and people (who can afford it) flock downtown. It is for sure leaving many lower income Roanokers out of the excitement and on the city’s fringe.

Not all the residents of the “shining city on the hill” are covered in “bling” you know.


Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary, Finance, Politics, Roanoke City Politics

Tags: , ,

Comments (11)

Terry Huxhold

October 10th, 2013 at 9:36 AM    

Valerie Garner, The main problem with downtown is a lack of affordable retail shops as well as the restaurants you mentioned. I feel that there is too many higher end restaurants there now. As more and more office space gets pushed out for downtown housing, these restaurants will see less and less week day lunch business. Paul's on Franklin Rd. is the only low cost eatery in downtown. High priced boutiques will not attract much of the general public to shop downtown.

The lightly used free trolleys from the market area to RMH running every 10 mins is a bit much. Every 20 mins should be enough, then they could free one or two up to loop around the downtown area like most cities this size does to help boost downtown eateries and retail shops. Other than the farmers market and museums, there is very little uniqueness to draw people downtown. People just do not go to museums on a daily bases and the farmers market is used mainly on weekends.

The civic center would have been wiser to have been built in downtown to begin with to attract more event visitors to downtown businesses. Moving it now would not be very cost effective now and what would they do with the current one. This would have done alot to kept many of the business's that moved out in the 70's and 80's.

Sidewalks downtown are a problem too. They are too narrow for outdoor dining, the handicapped and families with baby strollers to all compete for the same small space. I think outdoor dining is great, but in downtown its cramped and leaves no space for the handicapped or baby strollers to maneuver. The thin strip of sidewalk has lamp posts every few yards and this group can not walk them without using the street and fighting traffic, because the lampposts blocks the way.

They boast of plenty parking at the parking garages, but this is only true for the nightly bar crowds. The Williamson Rd. garage is free on weekend, but look how far it is from the market. I think the garage by the old station one firehouse is free, but how do you get to it. And speaking of parking, where will the residents of the 180 unit Crystal Tower building park when it is completed?

I do not feel the current plan for the market area will do much to attract enough visitors to downtown to justify its cost.

Robert Stutes

October 10th, 2013 at 10:39 AM    

I wasn't in Roanoke 20 years ago, but I have heard that the transformation has been huge.

The downtown vibe is one of the reasons that I chose to move here.

Does it look like Portland, Oregon (or even Portland, Maine) yet? Heck no.

Even my (retail working) daughter from California loves bling, and she saw a coat at one of the shops downtown and did not buy it – got back to California and regretted it, and phoned the shop and found the coat, and bought it. She lives in Santa Monica, CA and she is buying a coat from the 'Noke.

I'm not sure what aspects of redevelopment would give a great shot in the arm for lower income Roanokers, but for God's sake at least there are some more places to work that are accessible by public transit. (Remember – dollars do not just go down a disposal – they become someone else's paycheck.)

Valerie Garner

October 10th, 2013 at 6:07 PM    

Robert, good point. I just know people who don't go downtown at all or very little because of the cost. It seems to be more for one segment unless it is a free event.

Robert Stutes

October 10th, 2013 at 6:42 PM    

Some of it is also mindset (not cost). I confess I am an immigrant from TX and have hung out in the Houston area for many years – and there are people who would not think of going downtown for anything – whatever the cost – there mindset is based around parking.

I've already run into folks like that here who would not think of going out to eat downtown where they had to "find" a place to park.

There's a growing population, however, that loves the (much more traditional) vibe that paves much less of our beautiful land, and develops much more densely.

I confess I believe that our future looks more like that (almost lost) past, and anything that encourages density gets a huge RAH RAH from me…it is part of why I moved here…because Roanoke is, frankly, ahead of Houston in that regard…thanks to several factors….

Susanna Smith

October 10th, 2013 at 6:58 PM    

I'm one who doesn't go downtown Houston- very very seldom – a month ago I surprised myself by leaving the organic co-op and driving in an unknown direction and ended up downtoan – just relaxed (as much as I could) and kept driving drinking my organice juice and listeing to a good audiobook. if I knew how to get to where I wanted and where to park (and how to get there!) I'd love downtown – my favorite times there have been with someone and just walking around(during the 4 days of jury duty) but with all the one way streets, construction, busses, pedestirans and now a train thingy coming through that does NOT stop! it's just too crowded and too many quick decision making skills needed for me.

Valerie Garner

October 10th, 2013 at 7:05 PM    

I can't afford a coat from downtown. Burlington Coat factory or a really, really good sale somewhere. On a fixed SS income every penny counts and eating out is usually K&W. To go through shops downtown and looking at things and food I can't afford is depressing.

Valerie Garner

October 10th, 2013 at 7:50 PM    

Susanna Smith Very noisy at times too.

E. Duane Howard

October 10th, 2013 at 10:08 PM    

They want to spend another million to bring people downtown. What’s a million among the good’ole boys when its coming from out pockets?

Close the square where the parking is. close Market Street between Campbell and Church. Set up planters, fake palm trees, tables with umbrella’s a temp fountain and create this mind bending plaza that people will be killing each other to get to..and just see out it works before spending another million that if they do it they will come. I love going to the Market Area, I mean, after all, where else is there to go to begin with?

They keep building everything to get people downtown and you don’t even have a F…place to sit down and rest your aching back or feet. Once they build this grand plaza will it cost to just sit down at a table? If its free to sit there, then how you going to keep the homeless from sitting and there and if you have to spend money to sit there, well….who’s going to pay ?…It just hurts my brain and I said it well in a recent commentary.

Terry Huxhold

October 12th, 2013 at 4:08 AM    

Are you tired of how our City Council is running the city? Roanoke City had a ward system up until the last annexation back in the 70's. During the time the ward system was dissolved to protect the seats of the current City Council at that time. Since then, representation has been very unequal. It need to be brought back in soon. Join us if you are truly interested in making a positive to how our city operates.

Robert Stutes

October 12th, 2013 at 1:44 PM    

OK it would help me to know what you would really like to see in terms of retail downtown. Unaffordable hamburgers?? Really?? (I know that was a different thread, but I saw it and now can't find it.) There are lots of price points in food downtown. If I want the dollar menu, of course I will go somewhere else.

I go downtown all the time…but definitely not to buy clothes. I don't even buy clothes at the mall. I go to Hambricks.

But we would need about 200K people living in a high-density central city to support a Hambricks…so I don't see that happening anytime. Again…we aren't Portland, Oregon, and we aren't even Portland, Maine, but thank God we aren't Houston. You have lots more options in DT Roanoke than you have in DT Houston, and DT is going to get better faster here. That is why I am here.

And yeah…part of it is generational. My kids aren't rich. They are twenty-somethings living in LA and paying a fortune for an apt. in Santa Monica, but yeah, they see shopping for clothing – and food – totally different than I do.

Downtown is about the experience. Suburban thinkers will never think of DT as primarily conventional retail. Even downtown living folks who want to buy some Tylenol will probably get in their car to go get it.

But twenty years from now, you will not recognize the stretch from DT to Carilion.

Without downtown, I probably would not have relocated here. I would have found something else. Just sayin'…

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