The story below is a preview from our January/February 2017 issue. For the full story Subscribe today, view our FREE interactive digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
Nowhere in the Roanoke Valley is change more apparent than within the sightlines from the 14th floor of Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
Stand in front of carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, get out your mental compass tool and create a mental mile-radius circle with you as the center, and start to look around.
Well, not behind you and to the left so much, because that is pretty much all Mill Mountain and South Roanoke.
But look ahead and to your right, and you start to get a sense of an area transformed over recent years. Right there in your face is the Bridges project with Moe’s Southwest Grill (opened 2016) next to the obligatory Starbucks (2015 ribbon-cutting), as well as construction on a second set of Korean-looking apartments.
Right there behind the old Adams Payne and Gleaves building—housing Moe’s and Starbucks—there’s a new gravel walkway to a set of steps down a newly grassed slope to the Roanoke River.
The sign on the kiosk—complete with slats in the back for canoes and kayaks—provides a hint, as if you could have missed it, of the power behind the things at the center point of your mile arc: The map legend shows the “Carilion Canoe Corridor,” complete with cross-hatching over the river, as if possession has been taken of that section of the nascent Roanoke River Blueway by the giant health care provider.
And suggesting, more broadly, some level of possession of, or at least influence upon the rest of your arc. The Riverside 1, Riverside 2 and Riverside 3 buildings, with their handsome mass only a mild indicator of the huge health and economic power inside, have been there long enough, and been touted enough to approach the seen-that status of the brick-and-blue-glass building behind you.
It’s the on-and-beyond and not-directly Carilion that draws attention and attests to the power that radiates, as if out of those 14 stories of blue windows, that makes the impression as you walk around. Or watch the trolley arrive from downtown and then start back downtown.
Things like the Virginian Station there at Jefferson and Williamson, renovation of which was completed this fall. It’s as emblematic as anyhing of the fact that things untidy have been systematically removed from the arc—beginning perhaps with the old Surfaces store along Reserve, where now are clean open fields between the Cambria Hotel & Suites and the parking garage for the Riverside 3. And more recently by the disappearance of the military buildings along Reserve. And of the building at the corner of Reserve and Franklin, obtained by Carilion from the city and destroyed by fire in the fall. The old Parks & Rec building is gone, replaced by clean new tennis courts.
In short, take yourself from the front of Carilion Roanoke Memorial and go up to the 14th floor. Look out and about and it is pretty much a clean, unfettered view— a blend of new construction and greenspace.
Within the arc and moving out: Would Sweet Donkey have landed where it did in 2014 with no more than South Roanoke as its base? Would the distinctive Athens Grill be where it is if not for the glow from the bright blue windows? (And oh, look across the street as you dine there: Where’s the old Jefferson College of Health Sciences building? Gone, circa 2011.) Would Mellow Mushroom have opened where it did? Not to mention the old Ukrop’s building next to it, now gloriously reborn as the Carilion Institute for Orthopaedics and Neurosciences. Or the new grocer and retail center now in the works?
One piece of the past is visible from up on the 14th. Yes, Victory Stadium’s history is lost to sight, but just a little farther out, venerable Maher Field, where the Roanoke RoSox abandoned the Piedmont League in mid-season 1953, remains, its bases still 90 feet apart, its outfield wall a mild echo of the big circle of newness that surrounds it.