Roanoke city officials and some of its businesses unveiled a $66 million cooperative effort yesterday to build up the city's declining downtown area.
The plan, scheduled to be aired on a Roanoke television station last night, combines the city's resources and businesses' finances to renovate old storefronts and a hotel, plant elaborate gardens, and build pedestrian walkways, stores and about 2,500 new parking spaces to attract people with the 60-block area's proposed new ambience.
Countrary to past piecemeal efforts to revitalize the downtown area, Roanoke officials and businessmen decided to devise a major plan funded by the city and businesses, Assistant City Manager Sam McGhee said.
Businesses will contribute $50 million, and the city will provide about $16 million. Citizens contributed comments during the past four months at a downtown storefront manned especially for that purpose and they also telephoned in suggestions on three hour-long television shows in which various plans were presented, McGhee said.
"We said you've got to have people involved," he said.
City officials envision the renovation of a string of deteriorating storefront facades and the construction of a parking garage accommodating 233 to 377 parking spaces behind it. The now-vacant Leggett's department store will be rehabilitated and a new bank building will be built, McGhee said.
A pedestrian walkway is planned to connect two existing major stores, and colorful canopies will be provided over the string of storefronts, McGhee said.
In the city's 100-year-old market district, where meat, fruit and vegetable merchants once flourished, the plan calls for renovation of the existing 50-year-old structure to attract more businesses, McGhee said. There is an interest in selling the rehabilitated market as well as the city's historical fire station, which is also planned for improvement.
Another vacant store will be converted into a mini-mall and local arts groups have said they will build a cultural arts center in the area, McGhee said.
Some developers have proposed the construction of $6 million in "quality" residential townhouses, McGhee said.
Although few businesses have made firm commitments to occupy all the proposed retail and business space, Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurers and the Colonial American National Bank have made firm commitments to the construction of new offices, McGhee said.
"We're still in the negotiating stage with the majority of companies," McGhee said. The city is also trying to get a federal grant for the project, he said.