City Manager's Blog

Learn about the City of Roanoke from the City Manager's point of view.

Sep 28

A Brief Break

Posted on September 28, 2020 at 2:11 PM by Melinda Mayo

We were recently reminded that we are the midst of a virus marathon, not a sprint.  Last week, Dr. Molly O’Dell with the Roanoke-Alleghany Health Districts warned about COVID fatigue, causing some to let their guard down.  She reminded us that it is as important today as it was six months ago to wear face masks, maintain physical distancing, avoid large crowds, and stay home if you feel ill.  This is critically important information as our Nation has surpassed 200,000 deaths associated with Coronavirus.  

But still, it does get old; it’s tiring and frustrating.  So, I thought with this post I would offer up a bit of a virtual break from all things COVID.  With the help of Visit Virginia's Blue Ridge, I want to use this post to highlight some of the ways those outside our community are talking about the great offerings we have here.  And the best part?  Much of what is highlighted is COVID-safe and still able to be enjoyed!

The Outdoors

AAA GO, which is distributed to all AAA members in North Carolina, recently highlighted our area in their “Mountains” issue.  Of course, the article began with Mill Mountain and the Star, then moved on to highlight the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Roanoke River Greenway, and other various adventures on area trails and overs.  Men’s Journal recently highlighted the Virginia Triple Crown as a hike, offering one of the 27 most epic views every hiker should see (Dragon’s Tooth to be exact).  Mountain Bike Action highlighted our status as “America’s East Coast Mountain Biking Capital” and Bike Rumor offers a series of videos showcasing the many biking trails in the area.


It should come as no surprise that Roanoke is home to some pretty fantastic restaurants (all of which you can still patronize even during the pandemic), and now it seems the rest of the country is learning this. okra.Magazine recently featured a great article on “Lucky,” written by Roanoke’s own Hunter Johnson.  Southern Cast Iron magazine (did you even know there was a magazine focused on cast iron?) offered a great article on Aaron Deal featuring his culinary skills as practiced and the River and Rail Restaurant.  As an added bonus, the article highlights Aaron’s teaching at Virginia Western’s culinary program, helping expand opportunity for others in our area!  Finally, Condé Nast recently offered an insightful focus on the Lebanese food that can be found in Roanoke and its historic roots.  Aesy’s and Cedars Lebanese Restaurant both receive mentions in the article.

Places to Visit and Stay

Southern Lady Magazine dedicated an entire section of a recent edition to Roanoke.  The eight-page spread noted Chocolate Paper, Thornfield Farms, Ladles & Linen, Black Dog Salvage, and Grandin Village.  Our downtown museums are mentioned and Hotel Roanoke is prominently featured.  It is an article worth checking out for the photos alone!  

A Bit of Fun

If all that wasn’t enough of a break, VBR got in on some of the action itself by featuring a creative series called “imperfect substitutions,” offering a tongue-in-cheek set of quarantine “substitutions” for several area attractions.  This humorous play on current circumstances captured the attention of media outlets across Virginia, the Nation, and even as far as Canada and Germany.  It’s definitely worth checking out! 

So, stay strong.  Stay focused on what you and your family need to do to stay safe and healthy.  And also remember to take a break every now and again to enjoy what the area has to safely offer.

— Bob Cowell

Sep 21


Posted on September 21, 2020 at 9:29 AM by Melinda Mayo

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been the fortunate recipient of a number of emails, letters, and cards of thanks for the City’s support of various businesses and organizations through COVID-19.  These notes of gratitude are associated specifically with the City’s Star City Strong recovery efforts and recovery fund.  While I am grateful for these kind words, it is actually I who must offer my thanks.

Thanks to the Elected Officials

I must thank the various elected officials who have made our recovery efforts possible.  The President and Congress for the establishment of the CARES Act and its billions of dollars, of which we have been the beneficiary of more than $17 million.  The Governor and General Assembly for their transfer of funds received through the CARES Act (which they were not obligated to do) at the maximum amount available to localities, including Roanoke.  The Mayor and City Council for their support in the formation of the Star City Strong Recovery Fund Task Force, their hands-on facilitation of virtual focus group meetings and, in the case of the Mayor and Vice-Mayor, chairing of the Task Force meetings.

Thanks to the Task Force Members and Others

I must thank the more than 30 individuals who took time out of their busy and upended days to join us weekly for a couple of hours to review the myriad of funding streams, and associated rules and regulations.  Very few missed any of the meetings, and all took their task seriously and committed a great deal of time even beyond the formal meetings.  The assistance we have been able to provide is directly due to their thoughtfulness and genuine concern for the future of this community.  

I must also acknowledge and thank the members of the Boards and Commissions who have furthered the efforts of the Task Force and ensured the timely delivery of the financial assistance.  Without the Economic Development Authority, the Human Services Advisory Board, the Arts Commission, and the School Board, these efforts would be less successful. This is also true of all the City and School Division staff who have supported these efforts.  

Thanks to the Community 

Most significantly, I must thank the community—its small business owners, nonprofits, arts and culture organizations, artists and performers, teachers, and the many individuals providing and delivering essential services.  The ingenuity, perseverance, and grit shown by each of these has been a sight to behold.  While no doubt important, the limited financial assistance we have been able to offer pales in comparison to their determination to make it through these very challenging times.  I am both in awe at what they have been capable of and genuinely moved that, in the midst of all this, any would take the time to write a note of thanks.

I am reminded nearly every day how Roanoke is such a special and compassionate place.  This has been even more so in these last several months, as we have responded to COVID-19 and tried to reconcile the impacts of the inequities present in our community.  I am very fortunate to be able to serve as the City Manager of such a wonderful City and for that, I say thanks!

-- Bob Cowell

Sep 14

Hispanic Heritage in Roanoke

Posted on September 14, 2020 at 11:47 AM by Melinda Mayo


More than 5,000 of our residents define themselves as Hispanic or Latinx.  Beginning this week (Sept. 15), we join in celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.  The first part of this celebration dovetails with Welcoming Week, with this year’s theme of “Creating Home Together.”  

National Hispanic Heritage Month honors the culture and contributions of both Hispanic and Latino Americans.  Starting as a week of celebration in 1968, National Hispanic Heritage Month was expanded to a full month and enacted into law in 1988 by then President Ronald Reagan.  The celebration coincides with national independence days in several Latin American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica celebrate on Sept. 15, followed by Mexico on Sept. 16, Chile on Sept. 18, and Belize on Sept 21.

From the Beginning

Virginia has the 15th largest Hispanic population in the Nation, a presence dating back more than 500 years.  In 1526 explorers from Hispaniola (today the Dominican Republic) settled in an area near present-day Jamestown.  In addition to this first settlement, contributions of Hispanics are evident throughout Virginia and its 400-plus years of history, right up to the present day.  Early contributions include financial and military support for Colonists during the Revolutionary War.  Legend has it that even the horses on Chincoteague Island may be traced back to Hispanics—the descendants of horses from Spanish galleon shipwrecks!

Through to Today

With nearly 800,000 Virginians claiming Hispanic heritage and more than 6,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in Virginia, contributions are many and varied.  Roanoke has the benefit of numerous contributions by our Hispanic residents.  Local businesses, restaurants, and cultural offerings enrich our community and add greatly to our diversity.  We benefit from researchers, doctors, teachers, police officers, artists, contractors, realtors, and others with Hispanic heritage.  Organizations such as Casa Latina - Roanoke Valley  and Nuestro Comercio Latino are working hard to further empower Hispanic individuals and businesses in our community.  Local Colors, a local group championing ethnic diversity present in our community, will be hosting a series of virtual presentations throughout the month via their Facebook page, celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.  Similarly, additional offerings will be posted as part of the ongoing Welcoming Week events via the City’s social media.  

So let’s join together and celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the contributions our Hispanic neighbors make in our community and to Roanoke’s vibrancy!  

--Bob Cowell