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From hundreds of new jobs at one swoop to major craft brewers moving in, from a new hockey team to the comeback of a big ol’ locomotive, the Roanoke Valley had a very good year in 2016. Let’s take a look.
The year 2016 was a busy one in the Roanoke Valley, one where a lot was improved, modified, added, enriched. Here is a list of 25 of the best additions to our quality of life.
Hot New Thing #1: Beer Capital
Craft beer brewer Deschutes of Oregon announced in March plans to build a new facility, spending $85 million to locate on 49 acres near Blue Hills Golf Club. Construction will begin in 2019 and beer will be shipped in five years, but the excitement the announcement generated was palpable in the Roanoke Valley. Deschutes wasted no time becoming a high-profile corporate citizen, sponsoring a popular downtown Street Pub (raising $81,000 for charity) and a Tinker Creek cleanup. Roanoke beat craft brewing-capital Asheville for the facility, which will employ 108 people. Meanwhile, at the end of May, Ballast Point of San Diego said it would build a $47.8 million Daleville facility to produce Constellation Brands. It is the 11th largest craft brewer in the U.S. and will employ 175 people.
Hot New Thing #2: Downtown Hotel
The new Hampton Inn and Suites atop Roanoke’s Market Garage downtown has 120 rooms and adds three stories to the six-story parking garage. The $17 million project had a fall opening. The hotel sits atop a garage that was the center of controversy several years ago when a few bricks fell off the façade and resulted in a multi-million-dollar project replacing all the bricks outside and closing the garage for months.
Hot New Thing #3: Education Expansion
Multi-million dollar additions at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Insitute will add considerable student capacity in Roanoke. The state has authorized $45 million to expand health sciences and technology research and training facilities in Roanoke at the VTC, which will chip in $21 million to construct a 105,000 square foot biosciences addition at the Research Institute at Riverside Center. The addition will house biomedical research facilities, including imaging equipment. The economic impact is estimated at $191 million annually, once the building is occupied. Additionally, Virginia Western Community College is planning considerable expansion in the near future.
Hot New Thing #4: Health Sciences Emphasis
Virginia Tech pounced on the state’s huge grant expanding its Virginia Tech Carilion Medical College and Research Institute by announcing plans for a comprehensive Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District in Roanoke. Michael Friedlander, who directs the research institute, is the executive director of the district. Said Gov. Terry McAuliffe at the formal announcement: “The expansion of the health sciences and technology innovation hub in Roanoke is a tactical investment to grow the state’s biomedical and health research enterprise.” The district designation is expected to help add 25 research teams, bringing the total to 55.
Hot New Thing #5: RAMPing It Up
A new program at Virginia Western Community College called RAMP (Regional Acceleration and Mentoring Program) will concentrate on making small business work. The program officially launches in early January, 2017, but is already up and running, says Samantha Steidle, who’s running it. Roanoke has a laudable history of supporting small, innovative businesses, but its workforce training has slipped in recent years and RAMP could play a role in getting it back where it needs to be. The program is set in the old—and oddly appropriate—Gill Memorial Hospital building as a centerpiece for the new downtown Health Sciences and Technology Innovation District. The program is a hybrid that is supported by Roanoke ($600,000 contribution for renovation of Gill); VWCC (classes and faculty), Roanoke-Blacksburg Tech Council (advisory board, mentorship and networking programs). Says VWCC President Dr. Robert H. Sandel (who is also head of the Innovation Council): “We believe we can grow and keep our talent, whether it’s in information technology, advanced manufacturing, bio-sciences or other entrepreneurial efforts.”
Hot New Thing #6: More Greenway
The Roanoke River Greenway project continues to be a whirlwind of activity, one that has expanded to include activities on the river itself—the Blueway. In 2016, there was considerable progress. According to Greenway director Liz Belcher, there are several nodes of trails in the greenway plan, where trail work is ongoing: Carvins Cove (First Deck Trail, Rock-n-Roll, Hotel Trail, Sawmill Branch Ridge), Mill Mountain (Sidewinder, Understory) and Fishburn Park (Hillside Trail reconstruction). Three facilities have been developed along the Blueway: access from the Roanoke River Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway; access at The Bridges apartments; Green Hill Park handicapped fishing pier. Other construction includes two Lick Run Greenway bridges; Creek Greenway; Glade Creek Greenway; Catawba Greenway, first phase. It is a lot of work, but the Greenway is one of the Roanoke Valley’s most popular recreational opportunities.
Hot New Thing #7: Libraries
The Raleigh Court Library expansion in Roanoke and brand new Vinton Library in the center of town provide bigger and better facilities. The upgraded Raleigh Court Library, which opened March 15, was one of Roanoke’s smaller facilities at 6,800 square feet. It has been expanded to 10,300 square feet at a cost of $3.5 million ($1.5 million—70 percent—over budget). The Vinton Library was actually finished just as 2015 ended (late November 2015) and has 23,000 square feet and a $10 million price tag. It is the latest of three new or renovated Roanoke County libraries.
Hot New Thing #8: New Town Growing
The relatively new and innovative Daleville Town Center in Botetourt County saw its profile considerably improved in 2016 with a series of 34 free events that attracted as many as 2,000 people at a time to the mixture of new homes and businesses. Big Lick Entertainment’s Flat Pickin’ Fridays was especially successful in the town that was an apple orchard six years ago. The new Daleville Institute has taken over the cultural development of the little town and plans to have additional events in 2017.
Hot New Thing #9: Cregger Center, Roanoke College
The spectacular new $37 million home for athletics at the 175-year-old Salem college, which opened in October, houses offices for athletics, a fitness center, labs and offices. Cregger overlooks Kerr Stadium. The center is 155,000 square feet and houses a performance arena, seating 2,500 for athletic events and 3,500 for speakers, and field house with a 200-meter indoor track, one of the few in the region.
Hot New Thing #10: More Downtown Living
Lucas Thornton is solidifying his position among downtown Roanoke developers—and there are some dandies—with his new $8 million complex on Williamson Road just off City Market, Grammercy Row. Thornton has been one of the stars of the redevelopment community with three significant downtown projects, but this time his Hist:Re Partners LLC is building new (70-80 units) on .77 acres. The apartments feature six joined buildings with a distinct old-Roanoke look. The city gave Thornton quite a break by selling the parking lot where Grammercy Row will rest for $50,000. It is valued at $1.4 million.