Roanoke downtown master plan revealed

Focus on filling empty storefronts and building new walking trails

ROANOKE, Va. – People living in Roanoke got to take a look Tuesday at the master plan for the development of the downtown area over the next 20 years. What they saw, which had taken months of work by city planners, was a city with more green space that is better connected by biking and walking trails.

The plan has had two other input sessions because planners say the whole goal is to attract people to the area, so they need to know what people are looking for. The result is a future city that plays to its strengths, designed for an active culture with direct access to the natural amenities like the mountains that bring people here in the first place.

City planners spent time explaining the newly developed plan to people at the City Market Building Tuesday. People like Brendan Smith, who lives downtown.

"This whole thing is exciting me as a downtown resident. I've been here a little less than a year, and it's really helping me see where Roanoke might be in the next 10 years," said Smith.

Senior City Planner Wayne Leftwich says what Roanoke will be is a more connected community.

"We've proposed an urban trail that will essentially loop around downtown, building on our existing greenways, some of the existing streetscaping we have, but market it as an urban loop that gets you around to different parts of downtown," said Leftwich.

In addition to transportation, Leftwich says another focus will be on marketing to fill vacant storefronts.

"We want to stop that feeling of when you're walking down the street and you feel like you've walked away from downtown," said Leftwich.

Economic Development Director Wayne Bowers says for the city's biggest vacant property, that problem is already in the process of being solved.

"The former Norfolk Southern building has been sold. The new owners are actively marketing it. We are certainly willing to assist, primarily with the parking, making sure there's adequate parking," said Bowers.

Other proposals include a shuttle from downtown to nearby destinations, a new plaza on Church Avenue, and more space for parks. Smith says for him, it would all make Roanoke a better place to live.

"I'm really excited for the future. Hopefully as excited as the city is," said Smith.

WSLS 10 asked Wayne Bowers, after looking at the presentation, just how likely it is that all of that could become a reality. He said in 2002, the master plan's main goal was rehabbing historic buildings as apartment space. Now, there are no more historic buildings to rehab. He says he has faith that the city will see just as much success attracting private partners to make some of the new proposals happen.