2014 State of the City

Good Morning.

Once again we gather for the State of the City of our beloved Roanoke. And once again, as Mayor, I declare that the State of the City is “Grand.” This event is sponsored each year by the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce and, once again, I want to congratulate and thank Joyce Waugh and the leadership and membership of the Chamber for organizing and hosting this event.

This year, I am pleased that we are having the State of the City address at the Taubman Museum and my thanks to Della Watkins and all of her staff for being such gracious hosts for this event. You may be a working class guy like me, but if you will just take a moment during your busy schedule, from time to time, or bring a visitor to the Taubman Museum to see the fine display of art, you, too, will witness a panorama of excellent art, creative programs, and it will lift your soul and inspire you. That is what art is supposed to do and that’s what the Taubman does for Roanoke. It lifts us, provides us with a respite from our daily life, and inspires us for the future.

City Manager

That’s a lot of what a City Manager does for a city, also. He lifts us and provides us inspiration for the future and that’s what we’ve had over the last 4 years from our City Manager, Chris Morrill. You’ll see from the comments I’m presenting this morning that we’ve had many successful accomplishments over the last few years under his leadership. Chris Morrill has been a terrific leader for our community, as you all know, and we are very proud of him. Our thanks to city employees, and please join me in thanking Chris Morrill.

City Council
And a special thanks also to the people of Roanoke for maintaining the stability of our Council in the last election. We are a vibrant and vigorous bunch and although we tend to come to a reasonable consensus, you’d be surprised at the arguments that we have behind the scenes, each of us strongly advocating our point of view. The fact that we have differences of opinion is the same as it is in Washington and Richmond, but here in Roanoke we have enough good sense to come together most of the time to forge a progressive and accomplished agenda for the people of our “grand” city. I look forward to working with Vice Mayor Dave Trinkle and the other members of the Council over the next couple of years. Please recognize our Council.

By the way, I want to introduce to you to our new Finance Director, Barbara Dameron, who came to us just last month from Danville. Under the leadership and financial guidance of her predecessor, Ann Shawver, Roanoke gained a AA+ bond rating with Fitch and Standard and Poor, noting our stable financial management and progressive city agenda, notwithstanding the sluggish economic conditions of the Commonwealth. Barbara Dameron, I believe, will adhere to conservative fiscal policies that will help maintain our AA + rating.

Roanoke Jeopardy
I thought I’d have a little fun with you this morning and play a game I call “Roanoke Jeopardy.” Just like on the television show, I’ll give you the answers and you can provide the questions to the many accomplishments we’ve seen over the last year here in Roanoke.

For instance, the General Assembly assured that, with funding and commitment, this will arrive in Roanoke in the next couple of years coming down the line from Washington and Lynchburg, and you would say, “What is AMTRAK?”

Number Two: The Superintendent announced that this Roanoke high school has once again become accredited by the Commonwealth of Virginia and you would say, “What is William Fleming?”

This $7 million dollar project in the heart of Roanoke brought a new state of the art 4500 seat amphitheater to our city, and you would say, “What is the new Elmwood Park Amphitheater?”

This college opened a new $26 million Center for Science, Math and Health professions for students studying biology, chemistry, nursing, dental hygiene, radiology and other medical programs, and you would say, “What is Roanoke’s Virginia Western Community College Fralin Center?”

This park in a great neighborhood long involved in controversial strategic planning opened with a $1.5 million investment and a new playground, which has proven to be extremely popular for young people and families. “What is the new Countryside Park?”

This company moved into Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology with a $12 million investment, bringing 108 jobs to Roanoke. “What is FedEx Ground?”

This institution renovated 200,000 square feet of space and now provides experiences for Roanoke and our visitors with butterfly habitats, aquariums, theatrical presentations and history, and was a $30 million project, and you would say “What is Center in the Square?”

Investment Projects
These projects invested millions for housing in downtown Roanoke. Where once there were only 12 persons living, now we boast a downtown population believed to be over 1500. And the question is, “What is the Shenandoah Building, now known as Parkway 301, and the Ponce De Leon, formerly known as Crystal Tower.”

This project helped to transform one of America’s most pleasurable public spaces into an even nicer and up-to-date public space, while still maintaining the flavor of being an Appalachian Farmer’s Market, and the question is “What is the Roanoke City Market?”

This development involving a multi-year mixed use investment on a 28 acre site just to the south of downtown estimated to involve a $100 million of investment is located right across from the Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School, and the answer is “What is The Bridges with new apartments and commercial area on Jefferson Street?”

By the way, this institution graduated its first class in May of 2014. “What is the Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School?” And we are very proud of that accomplishment.

This multi-million dollar investment brings the first new hotel to downtown Roanoke in decades. “What is the Hampton Inn City Market Hotel?”

This development in Elmwood Park is a million dollar renovation, and enhances learning for people of all ages. “What is the main Roanoke Public Library?”

This development provides improvement in a popular neighborhood park. “What are the Jackson Park improvements?”

This is the lowest its been in 47 years in Roanoke. And the question is (can you believe it), “What is the crime rate?”

This statistic indicates improved education in Roanoke Public Schools. “What is our graduation rate at PH, Fleming and Forest Park?”

This project is perhaps the most popular improvement in Roanoke in recent years and will be expanded westward to Salem. “What is the Roanoke River Greenway?”

Haley Toyota is moving from Franklin Road to a major intersection in proximity of 2 huge friendly competitors, Magic City Ford and Berglund Chevrolet to form the largest automobile sales district in Western Virginia. “What is Motor Magnet?”

I am reminded at this point that Jeopardy is only a 30 minute program, but can you believe the new jobs, new business and huge investments of private and public funding here in Roanoke over just the last year or so.

Let me conclude my remarks in the next several minutes with a look to the future and some challenges and plans that we need to continue to work on. May I remind you of the ACT initiative which I announced in my State of the City a couple of years ago. We need to continue to promote academic economic development, cultural economic development and tourism economic development in Roanoke.

As part of our academic initiatives we support coordinating the establishment of more Co-Lab work spaces for entrepreneurs with Virginia Western Community College. We support the expansion of the Virginia Western Al Pollard Culinary Arts Program on Henry Street.

We are continuing to meet with Radford University President, Penny Kyle to encourage expansion of programs in Roanoke and we coordinated meetings between the Washington and Lee Law School and Virginia Tech’s Medical School to consider a joint program here in the city. We’ve had a grand relationship over the years with Virginia Tech and we look forward to continuing productive partnerships with the new president, Dr. Tim Sands. N.L. Bishop and the Jefferson College, right in the heart of our city, is continuing to grow with over 1200 students, and obviously medical-related education and medical-related jobs are good prospects for the future.

Cultural Initiatives
With regards to our cultural initiative, my thanks to Neighborhood Coordinator Bob Clement, City Arts Coordinator Susan Jennings, and Parks and Recreation Department Director Steve Buschor for organizing and implementing the nationally recognized, award winning Parks and Arts Program. We have some beautiful parks in Roanoke and we have long had recreation and sports activities in the parks, but through this program we’ve brought brass bands, jazz bands, country music, pottery and water color artists, - all sorts of lively arts and performing arts, into our neighborhood parks in every quadrant of the city.

Our next performance is Sunday, August 24 and this grand finale will involve Fat Tuesday’s Band and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert at Elmwood Park. This program brought us national recognition from the U.S. Mayors Conference and we were one of the finalists for the nation’s livability award.

Let me also say something about the Arts and Cultural Foundation. This has just gotten off the ground and it has been led by Vice Mayor Dave Trinkle and local philanthropist David Wine. The aim is to provide a financial foundation for the sustainability of our many arts and cultural activities and museums here in the Roanoke Valley. We don’t want to lose any one of them, so we have to make sure that each is on a firm financial position so that they can continue to enrich and enhance our lives, and that of the lives of the Roanoke Valley.

Economic Development
With regards to our tourism economic development initiative, I want to propose 2 train excursions involving Roanoke over the next 2 years. The first, which I call “The Deal-maker” would bring legislators from Richmond to Roanoke. We used to bring the entire General Assembly to Roanoke. It is important for us to make an effort to introduce legislators from other parts of Virginia to what is good about the arts and cultural activities of Roanoke and how important it is for their support and investment in this major city of Western Virginia.

The second excursion involves our friendly competitor, Bristol, with the Virginia Tech/University of Tennessee football game scheduled for September 10, 2016. That football game at the Bristol Motor Speedway will draw thousands from Virginia and Tennessee and be a nationally-watched television game. As we bring AmTrak to Roanoke, let’s be thinking about organizing an excursion train from Roanoke with stops in the New River Valley and points south, alleviating a lot of cars on I-81, to the Battle of Bristol to support the Virginia Tech Hokies. This will continue our efforts to promote passenger rail service to Roanoke and Southwest Virginia.

But while we are talking about interstates, let’s not forget that bringing I-73 into Roanoke will be an economic driver for our region. Let’s make sure that, for the future, I-73 construction begins soon. And let’s get our portion of I-81 and I-581 designated with signage as part of the I-73 corridor.

We don’t have the tobacco money that has brought better broadband service to cities like Galax, and we are not as big an area in which Comcast or Verizon, or Cox will provide broadband service as it does in Northern Virginia. It’s important for people and businesses in Roanoke to understand that this is a huge obligation that must be initiated and paid for in part by our local government because it provides an “interstate” of broadband service from which other lines can be connected to provide internet service to all of the Roanoke Valley.

I’m very proud, as I’ve said publicly on many occasions that Landon Howard and his team at the Roanoke Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. His effort over the last couple of years to brand us as Virginia’s Blue Ridge has been successful and he can report record numbers of tourist investment, and an increase in tourism-related jobs here in the Roanoke Valley.

Final Remarks
In my final remarks, I want to tell you what I thought was one of the nicest compliment that I have received as Mayor of our great 6-time All-America city, an award, by the way, which no other city in America has won as often as Roanoke. Someone said, Mr. Mayor, you help us feel good about our city. City Manager Chris Morrill often says it in a similar way. He says we’ve changed the way Roanokers think about themselves and we’re not going to go back to the past.

Despite all of our problems, and our serious obligations for the future, there is a lot to be proud of and joyful about here. Roanoke is a “GRAND” city in which to live, work, play and visit. We should, after all, feel good about our Grand city.