City Manager's Blog

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

Jul 17

Welcome Planners

Posted on July 17, 2023 at 12:11 PM by Carol Corbin

Welcome Planners

This week, Roanoke is hosting the annual statewide gathering of planners through the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association.  For a number of reasons, it is fitting that this event should be held here in Roanoke, at this time.

Home of Landmark Plans

Roanoke is recognized for not one, but two landmark planning accomplishments with national significance.  The City’s 1907 and 1928 plans - some of the earliest municipal plans in the Nation were prepared by John Nolen, acknowledged as the first American to identify himself exclusively as a town and city planner who went on to prepare plans for hundreds of neighborhoods and communities throughout the Nation.  Most recently, the City Council dedicated the park adjacent to the downtown pedestrian bridge, John Nolen Plaza in honor of his contributions to the City.


Roanoke has a strong sense of identity and for many years, city planners and others have been actively engaged in placemaking.  From our strong and unique neighborhoods including Crystal Springs, Grandin Village and Wasena to our extensive greenway system, our unique urban form set amongst the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, our extensive public art and murals, and our growing collection of historic sites associated with local African-American heritage - each contributing to what makes Roanoke unique and authentic.

Confronting Challenges 

No urban center is without its challenges and Roanoke is no exception.  Many of its most daunting have planners leading the response.  Addressing racial disparities, overcoming damage caused by urban renewal, improving health outcomes, increasing the supply of affordable housing, and preparing for and mitigating climate change are but a few of the most pressing.  In each of these, city planners and other city officials are dedicating time, money, and attention with our residents to address them in transformational and meaningful ways.  

So, indeed it is fitting for the State’s planners to gather here in Roanoke to experience what we have to offer, to teach us what they have learned in their communities, and to share with one another how best to tackle some of today’s greatest challenges.  

Welcome to Roanoke planners and thank you for what each of you are doing and will do for your communities and its residents and businesses.


— Bob Cowell

May 08

Star City Shining

Posted on May 8, 2023 at 11:29 AM by Carol Corbin

What do a pancake breakfast, a classic car show, a parade, Cinco de Mayo, and strawberries have in common?   They all were a part of a collection of events taking place this past weekend in or near Downtown Roanoke.   Just the latest reminder that we are indeed fortunate to live in Roanoke and what a truly great place the Star City is!

Strawberry Festival

Downtown Roanoke was bustling all weekend, beginning last Friday with the annual Community School Strawberry Festival, held at Elmwood Park where hundreds retrieved their strawberry deserts, enjoyed some entertainment and did their part to support this important education institution located right in the heart of downtown.

Pancakes and More

The Roanoke Kiwanis Club held their annual Pancake event at the Berglund Center.  For 25+ years, the Club has conducted an annual event to raise money by selling pancake breakfasts and conducting an auction and yard sale. Each year, thousands of tickets are bought and thousands of pancakes served, hundreds of hours of Club member efforts are volunteered, countless items are sold, and tens of thousands of dollars are raised. The proceeds are used for grants to dozens of local non-profit and charitable organizations focused on children, the elderly, and the environment.  

Classic Cars

The Roanoke Valley Mustang Club held their 34th Annual Mustang and Ford Powered Roundup at Magic City Ford this past Saturday.  Classic cars were on display throughout the day with hundreds of owners and guests in attendance.  

Hispanic Heritage

Cinco de Mayo festivals were held throughout downtown Friday and Saturday culminating in the inaugural TacoRita celebration at Elmwood Park.  The event produced by the Berglund Center, celebrates the Cinco de Mayo weekend, with live Latin music, salsa dancing, taco & chili pepper eating contests, tacos from local Roanoke restaurants, and of course…margaritas!  


Of course, the biggest event of the weekend was the celebration of the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs Ice Hockey Team and their victory last Tuesday where they claimed the President’s Cup and the SPHL Championship – the first for the team and the most recent such championship for a Roanoke team in over 35 years!  The team’s accomplishment was celebrated with a community party at Berglund Center preceded by a procession through part of downtown.  The team will be further recognized by the City Council through the reading of a Proclamation at the Council meeting today.  Way to go Dawgs!

What a weekend!  What a City!  

-- Bob Cowell

Oct 10

A Year of Getting Things Done

Posted on October 10, 2022 at 3:27 PM by Casey Lewis

Recently, the Council gathered for their annual Strategic Planning Retreat, reviewing the current plan, discussing necessary revisions and beginning to plan for its update and the upcoming budget.  As has been their custom, the retreat began with a discussion of accomplishments over the past year and then challenges, both present and possible in the future.

This week’s post includes the accomplishments shared at the retreat.  The list, while not all-encompassing is representative of much of the great work accomplished by the Council and City staff in the previous fiscal year - July 2021 through June 2022.

Next week’s post will focus on the challenges presented and discussed at the retreat, followed by an overview of the actions taken or planned by Council and City staff to address each of these.

  • Secured funding to acquire and demo a collection of flood-prone properties including the former Ramada Inn
  • Acquired the Ramada Inn and initiated demolition
  • Melrose Streetscape as conclusion of work in the Melrose Orange Target Area
  • Secured additional grant funding for the Financial Empowerment Center
  • No Need to Speed Campaign
  • Re-opened public pools
  • Brandon Road Complete Streets Project
  • First (and second) Iron Man
  • Appointment of Clarence Grier as Deputy City Manager
  • Issued $33 million in bonds for CIP – record low interest rate
  • Secured renewed credit rating status from each of the three major credit rating agencies
  • Initiated construction on the new Transit Transfer Station – including initiating temporary operations
  • Completed transaction with Campbell Court property – demolition complete and construction underway
  • Initiated implementation of Public Safety Step Pay Plan – pay increases for police, fire-EMS and Sheriff’s Office
  • Initiated the preparation of Organization-wide Compensation Assessment
  • Issuance of hazard, retention and recruitment bonuses
  • Establishment of $15/hr minimum wage for City workforce
  • Convened the Star City Strong Recovery and Resiliency Fund Advisory Panel – ARPA funds
  • Initiated implementation of the Star City Strong Advisory Panel recommendations – ARPA funds
  • $1.7 million in deferred parks maintenance items completed
  • National League of Cities Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative – Gainsboro
  • Renaming of Lee Plaza – Freedom Plaza and Henrietta Lacks Plaza
  • Opening of the Roanoke River Greenway connection with Salem- Barnhardt Creek Bridge – Liz Belcher Plaza
  • Youth and Gang Violence Assessment
  • Youth and Gang Violence Outreach Team formed
  • Initiated Reimagine Recreation Center Plan
  • Opioid Abatement Fund Settlement Agreement
  • Installment of the Welcome to Roanoke Art Exhibit on the 4th floor of the Municipal Building
  • GO Fest – Downtown for first time
  • Secured State funding for shared lab space in the Innovation Corridor - $16 million State plus $2 million local – Carilion, VTC, VTF, Johnson Labs
  • Welcoming Week Celebrations
  • Shuttered Venue Grants ($8+ million) for COVID relief
  • Formation of the Youth Athletics Review Board
  • Initiated Star City Safe Effort
  • Implementation of the Plastic Bag Tax
  • Initiated the Language Access Services Program
  • All-America City Finalist
  • Sidewalk Camping Ordinance
  • Naming of Washington Park Basketball Courts – Ricky Renell Wright
  • Leadership Diversity & Equity Workshop – Equity Action Plans
  • Initiated Year of the Artist Campaign
  • State Resurgence Grant – Gainsboro
  • Restarted Leadership College
  • Opening of first Futsal Court
  • Opening of new downtown hotel
  • Completion of the downtown escalator replacement project
  • Initiation of HUD Healthy Homes program
  • Funding and Administrative support for Brownfields Grant – Walker Foundry property
  • Submitted at $324 million balanced budget
  • Initiated first City Economic Development Strategic Plan
  • Initiated Neighborhood Centers Analysis/Plan
  • Initiated Joint Master Plan Development – Evans Spring – City, EDA, Landowners
  • Initiated National League of Cities Inclusive Entrepreneurship Grant
  • Reinstated Annual Youth Summit
  • Authorization to issue $48 million in bonds for CIP
  • Law Library relocated
  • Completed the remodel of the Gainsboro Branch Library
  • Received a donation of 41,778 books valued at $538,000.   This donation to the Roanoke Public Libraries was the Soho Center’s largest donation to a single public library.
  • Began implementation of the Assistant City Manager – Apprentice program
  • Continued improvements at the Wood Haven Technology Park
  • Launched a Spanish-version of the City’s webpage
  • Updated a number of City personnel policies including Remote Work and Marijuana Use
  • Welcomed an increased number of Afghan Refugees to our community following U.S. extraction from Afghanistan
  • Enacted a number of Zoning Code Amendments to further implementation of Comprehensive Plan - Eliminating the minimum parking requirements in all zoning districts throughout the City, permitting “accessory apartments” in all residential zoning districts in the City and Creating accessory uses for both “electric vehicle charging stations” and “solar energy systems” to embrace new energy efficient technologies
  • Initiated COVID test kit programs in library branches
  • Hidden in Plain Sight Funding Assistance
  • Urban Renewal and the Berglund Civic Center – a series of initiatives to honor the history of what preceded the Civic Center, the impact of urban renewal and to begin to forge a new path forward with the Gainsboro Neighborhood.  
  • The Public Works Service Center Improvements - an automated brine facility, a decanting facility, a water reclamation system, storm drain improvements, three covered storage buildings, and associated work.  The project has a value of $5,000,000 and has an estimated completion date of January 2023.  
  • The Roanoke River Greenway – Bridge the Gap construction - approximately 1 mile of a 10’ wide asphalt path from Bridge Street to the Norfolk Southern Material Yard. Work involves constructing a pedestrian bridge, installing retaining walls, earthwork and storm drainage. With the completion of the project, the Roanoke River Greenway will be continuous for approximately 10 miles within the City limits. The project has a value of $6,100,000 and has an estimated completion date of August 2023.  
  • Courthouse Renovations - renovating the J&D Courts area and upgrading the Sheriff’s Security Station at the entrance of the Courthouse.  The project has a value of $1,800,000 and has an estimated completion date of June 2022.  
  • RCPS Joint Use Agreement – 20-year agreement
  • Plan Review and inspections for Carilion Clinic Expansion - the ten-story tower--eight stories above grade and two stories of underground parking—will include trauma care, a new Emergency Room, and a second helicopter pad.
  • Honored Ukraine with raising of Ukraine flag at Freedom Plaza
  • 2022 USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championship – For the first time Roanoke will be hosting the USA Cycling Amateur Road National Championship
  • Roanoke Capital Access Fund - The City of Roanoke’s Economic Development Authority “EDA” is partnering with Freedom First offering Roanoke City licensed businesses the opportunity to apply for a business loan through the Roanoke Capital Access Fund.  In order to apply, City of Roanoke businesses must hold a current business license, must utilize accelerator and mentoring programs including the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program “RAMP”, the Advancement Foundation’s Gauntlet, or the Roanoke Small Business Development Center, and must be entrepreneurs, businesses and/or higher education professionals working to create opportunities and success in research, healthcare and technology.
  • Neighborhood Month Activities – May
  • Melrose-Rugby entrance monuments restoration
  • Roanoke Higher Education Center Gainsboro Walkway Dedication – The dedication of the walkway connecting the main Higher Education Center building and the Culinary Training Institute
  • The William & Margaret Robertson Behavioral Health Wing, a 1,900-foot expansion which includes six counseling rooms and group counseling space at the Bradley Free Clinic.  This expansion benefitted from CDBG funding
  • GFOA Distinguished Budget Award
  • $2 million for deferred Parks maintenance – largest funding in decades
  • Acquisition of Richardson-Wayland property for relocation of Parks and Recreation operations and equipment storage
  • Marc Nelson appointed as Economic Development Director

 - Bob Cowell