Roanoke’s Fire Station 1 renovations get first seal of approval amid massive downtown developments

‘The economic impact is just fabulous’

ROANOKE, Va. – Major developments are in the works in downtown Roanoke, including new hotels, restaurants and historic building renovations.

Plans to re-purpose the historic Fire Station 1 on Church Avenue were approved by the city’s Architectural Review Board Thursday night. Those plans for the exterior of the building include replacing the roof, cleaning up and repairing bricks, windows, and doors where needed, while still preserving the historical architectural features.

The station opened in 1907 but has sat empty for more than a decade. Since it’s a historic landmark, any renovations must be approved at the city and state levels.

City council approved the sale of the station in 2018, but it’s not finalized yet. The sale is contingent on the developers, Old School Partners, getting all the necessary approvals and permits.

Hill Studio was hired by Old School Partners to create the design plan. The architectural firm is hoping to get historic tax credits from the state, which is possible if the plans get approval from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The design team has been working intensely on the project for the last six months. Design plans for the historic building include converting the bottom floor into a mixed-use retail-brewery combination, including a Black Dog Salvage retail space. Upstairs, there will be seven Airbnb-style rooms and meeting space.

'It’s great. This is a wonderful building," said Hunter Greene, the director of architecture at Hill Studio. “It’s got a lot of history to it, obviously, and has a lot of architectural character, so it’ll be great to see it back in shape.”

Greene said they plan to preserve the fire poles, an ornate spiral staircase, woodwork and other unique features of the building.

"They’re going to see a very spruced up space,“ Greene said. "The lighting will change the dynamics of the space and enhance it.”

Greene expects to hear back from the state within ten business days, whether or not the plans have been approved. Then, it’s a matter of getting the building permits and work can start. He did not give an exact timeline but said it could be several months.

“Everybody up at the city has been very supportive in making this work for us," Greene said.

Other developments are changing the face of downtown.

Joe Migdadi just opened up a restaurant on Campbell Avenue, Cello Coffee House and Cafe. He’s worked at restaurants in Jordan and Dubai, but jumped at the chance to open up in the heart of the city.

“It’s my favorite area. I was really excited... to be able to open up in downtown Roanoke, especially in this spot right here," Migdadi said.

Lisa Soltis, an economic development specialist with the city, said Roanoke is transforming before her eyes, between new restaurants, shops and hotels.

Soltis also said new developments mean more tourism and people want to live downtown, which increases the city’s tax base.

“The economic impact is just fabulous," Soltis said.

Work is nearly done at the old Heironimus building. After 13 years, a Mast General Store is set to open this summer and they’re hiring now. There will be other commercial spaces downstairs and 80 new apartment units upstairs, plus space for an on-site pool and gym.

The old Liberty Trust building will be transformed into a 54-room boutique hotel with a restaurant and bar. Demolition has begun and it is set to open later this year. Reservations will be accepted starting in the summer of 2020.

“The idea would be for us to be a gathering point, not just for our guests, but also for the Roanoke community," said Vishal Savani, the managing director for Savara Development, LLC, the developer for the project.

A 500-space parking garage and hotel with about 120 rooms is also in the works at the corner of Williamson Road and Church Ave.

The city council approved the purchase agreement in May 2019, but the sale hasn’t been finalized.

“That’s a public-private partnership.. you know, there’s a lot of details to be worked out, but it would be nice if that would come to fruition.”

Soltis said this is a resurgence downtown that the city hasn’t seen in decades.

“It’s nice to see this just come back around again and the vibrancy that we do have in downtown Roanoke,” Soltis said.

Other developers have purchased the old Roanoke Times printing press and the Pinnacle bank building, but detailed plans haven’t been released yet.

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