Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mayor says Roanoke still has the “Big MAC” in it’s future

The MAC in the "Big MAC" is Market, Amphitheater and Countryside

Every summer the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts the Annual State of the City address. This year’s breakfast was again held Thursday at the Sheraton Roanoke Hotel and Conference Center on Hershberger Road.

Mayor David Bowers looked back over his prior two years of speeches in preparing for 2010’s State of the City address.

“In 2008 I was able to assure you that the ‘soap opera’ at Roanoke City Council was over … I’m pleased to tell you, we’ve achieved that,” said Bowers.

He praised Court Rosen’s bold suggestion to increase the meal tax. “Roanoke now has positive momentum in turning our inner city schools into one of the premier school systems in Virginia … this additional revenue source from you, our citizens … will provide the needed financial basis for continued success and improvement in our city schools.”

Bowers thanked the School Board Chairman Dave Carson and Superintendent Rita Bishop for their leadership while emphasizing the school’s accomplishments. 

Forest Park Academy, a school for over age and under credited students graduated over 100 students for the second year in a row. Fishburn Park elementary school continues as a model environmental school, Fallon Park elementary won the 2009 National Excellence in Urban Education award and Patrick Henry High School was named one of the top high schools in the United States by Newsweek.

“Most impressive, our graduation rate, which just a couple of years ago was at 58%, has been inching upwards and I’m pleased to tell you that the graduation rate for the school year ending 2009-2010 was 66%,” said Bowers.

Bowers lauded the opening of the Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School and the new Cambria Suites Hotel. He called these accomplishments “the biggest economic development initiative in the history of Roanoke since the railroad came to town over 100 years ago.” 

Bowers ticked off a checklist of other accomplishments that included:

Stabilization of the city’s finances, the hire of the new City Manager Chris Morrill, the city’s hosting of the Virginia Municipal League Annual Conference, the naming Roanoke a bicycle friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists, the expansion of the greenway, the Mill Mountain conservation easement, the recognition by the Virginia Sustainable Building Network of Roanoke’s Clean and Green in 2010, national certification from the National Weather Service recognizing emergency first responders, commitment for public art, the new firehouses, the police department’s continued national accreditation and continued decline in violent crime.

“I want to end my remarks regarding our police department and fire department by recognizing Officer N.D. Comas, a former Marine, who earlier this year reached over the railing to save a woman who was jumping off of the 10th Street bridge. It is acts of daring and courage each day, performed by our police officers and fire personnel, who literally save the lives of Roanokers like you and me. Congratulations and thank you Officer Comus and the members of the nationally accredited Roanoke Police, Fire/EMS and 9-1-1 departments.”

Bowers spent the rest of his address looking to the future saying:

“We need to jump-start our ‘Big MAC’ capital improvement program. ‘Big MAC’ stands for the market, the amphitheater and Countryside,” said Bowers. He stressed that though municipal services are important “it’s also important for the City to maintain a progressive capital improvement program. Council took a go-slow approach during these economic times on two of the three ‘Big MAC’ projects; I challenge the Council to move forward on the other two. And…by the way…the money available should dictate the magnitude of the project, not vice-versa.”

“The Market Building is the one of the three that is underway. I have not always been impressed with City maintenance of it, nor have I felt that we’ve done right by the tenants that have faithfully occupied that building. No wonder the mice were running through there a couple of years ago,” said Bowers. In nine months he wants to get the current tenants back in the building and have it “once again the ‘gem’ of downtown.”

As to the other two projects of the “Big MAC” Bowers remarked that:

“Vice-Mayor Dave Trinkle has been the leading advocate for a downtown amphitheater and we were right on the verge of getting that project underway. Roanoke City Council wisely decided to pull back on the project at the behest of our Director of Finance in order to maintain our bond rating. It was a tough, but correct decision at the time. But, now let’s see if we can re-start that amphitheater discussion.”

“Likewise, the third project in ‘Big MAC,’ Countryside has been an ongoing problem for the City for some time going years back before I became Mayor. I’m determined to see that something good is done out there. It’s still my thought that our best option is to turn Countryside into a municipal golf, tennis and swim center. If other members of Council or other citizens have other ideas in mind, then put them on the table. But, it is not right for the people of the Countryside neighborhood to wait in limbo for another decade. Countryside should not be another Victory Stadium debacle that lingers on and lingers on and lingers on. ‘We’ need to get it done.”

“My challenge to the council regarding our ‘Big MAC’ capital improvement program is that we’ve got one down and two to go. In just the next 18 months Roanoke City Council should make a decision to move forward on the amphitheater and on plans for Countryside, which are acceptable to the neighborhood. The clock is ticking!”

Bowers thanked the representatives from the Clean and Green group and the Cool Cities environmental advocacy group, Pearl Fu representing Local Colors and Jack Tompkins represents sister cities, Old Southwest neighborhood named number one in America, and Estelle national neighborhood leader of the year.

“We are Roanoke, a spectacular, one-of-a-kind, all-American, great place to live, work and visit. Roanoke is a Star,” exclaimed Bowers.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

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