Corned Beef, Billy's owner details Roanoke's revitalization - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Corned Beef, Billy's owner details Roanoke's revitalization

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It's not too far off to say that Roger Neel has seen it all during his time in downtown Roanoke, which spans almost three decades.

"We've been in business 27 years," he said. "Things have changed dramatically downtown."

As an owner of several downtown restaurants including Corned Beef, Frankie Rollins, and Billy's, Neel has eagerly watched Roanoke grow.

But it wasn't always that way.

When he first started in the 1980's, Neel said downtown Roanoke could be mistaken for a ghost town.

"On the weekends after we would close up we would go play some wiffle ball outside, a little bowling in the street, maybe throw the football," he said while walking along South Jefferson Street in front of two of his restaurants. "When I say nobody, I mean there was nobody downtown."

Neel said it didn't begin turning around until the Hotel Roanoke re-opened in 1995, putting people closer to the city center.

That motivated new businesses to come downtown like Frankie Rowlands, which Neel opened in 2001.

"You had some individual people who wanted to invest in downtown and took the time and effort to do it," he said. "I think that's really where it came from."

That investment has continued giving downtown a new look with a focus on restaurants and apartments.

But while business is good, Neel said the pendulum may be swinging back faster than most people think.

"I think we'll hit another plateau here shortly," he said. "At that point and time I think you will see it expand beyond the core of downtown."

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