ROANOKE, Va. – The City of Roanoke says it’s serious about investing in the historic Gainsboro neighborhood.
Thursday night, members of the community gathered to voice their ideas and concerns. However, gaining the neighborhood’s trust after years of empty promises could prove a challenge.
“It’s a problem when this is the most historical community in the City of Roanoke, and it looks like the worst community in the City of Roanoke,” said Jordan Bell, a Gainsboro resident who leads tours through the historic neighborhood.
Passion, pride and frustration were on display during Thursday night’s meeting.
“If you’re going to do something, quit talking and do something,” said one man in attendance.
Gainsboro residents gave their input on the latest revitalization plan for the historic Roanoke neighborhood. Ideas included a community center, Black business incubator, boutiques or cafés, playgrounds, street lights and a grocery store. People who attended the meeting also expressed concerns over blight and the desire to rehab historic homes.
“I would just like to see this community just thrive,” said Brenda Allen, the vice president of the Gainsboro Southwest Community Organization. “I feel like we’ve been neglected for so long, that, I mean, it’s time to build that up.”
They also emphasized the importance of local companies, like The Hotel Roanoke and the Roanoke Higher Education Center, employing people who live in Gainsboro.
“If we have as far as the neighborhood groups, can congeal together and keep it going, it’ll be a success,” said Corey Robinson, the president of the Gainsboro Historical Preservation District.
For residents like Bell, the big question is: What’s different this time around?
Since urban renewal decimated Gainsboro’s thriving African American community in the 1960s and 70s, Roanoke City has created several plans over the years to restore the area.
“There was, you know, different city plans, different meetings,” said Bell. “All types of studies have been done over the years. And everything that we said in this meeting tonight is exactly what was already said was going to be done 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.”
Councilman Joe Cobb understands the frustration and says the council is committed to making amends.
“An apology is only meaningful so far unless you have actions that accompany what you’re saying in the apology,” said Cobb. “For me, when we talk about reparations, those can take many different forms. But this is potentially an act of repair, which I think is really import—not only for Gainsboro but for our city as a whole—to bring some healing back.”
The city has identified $10 million to develop and support a Gainsboro hub, focused on minority-owned small businesses, entrepreneurs, community health, etc.
Of that, $5 million would be from the American Rescue Plan Act funding as recommended by the Star City Strong Advisory Panel. That would be matched by a $5 million one-time investment from the city’s General Fund.
City officials told 10 News that the project is in the planning stage, with the funds anticipated to be spent over the next few years.
Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds said the funding makes the difference.
“You cannot get back what you took away, but you can come in now with good faith effort and try to make it right,” said Moon Reynolds.
The renewed efforts, renewing hope.
“What’s going to make it special and meaningful and lasting is to have the people who live here, who know this history to see it come alive again with new energy, with new ideas, with innovation and with possibility,” said Cobb.
“I think the community is rejuvenated. I just think it’s a different time across the country, across the state,” said Bell. “And I do think this time is going to be different.”