At the end of December, it is customary to look back at the year that is concluding and compile a list of notable events. There are a number of such lists already floating around in the local newspaper, across the web, and via social media. Though many notable happenings occurred in our community in 2019, I will leave the looking back to others and, instead, take a look forward to 2020 and highlight a few things we can anticipate occurring.
New Construction and Business
After decades of vacancy, 2020 will bring the reopening of the old Heironimus building outfitted with dozens of new apartments and, of course, Mast General Store. With these, the downtown population will continue to grow and a new retail destination will emerge for our ever-expanding and revitalizing downtown.
The year 2020 will see the opening of the latest research building at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech – Carilion. This $100 million investment will house dozens of research teams advancing research on topics ranging from addiction, autism, breast and brain cancer, cerebral palsy, major depression, epilepsy, intellectual disability, immune system development, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, hypoxic-ischemic cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death, microcephaly, and Parkinson’s disease.
Construction of Fire Station #7 in the Grandin Village area is underway and, upon completion, will offer state-of-the-art facilities for Fire-EMS personnel serving that portion of our community. Design will progress on the Main Street Bridge in the Wasena area, as well as on the new Downtown Transit Transfer Facility. A new library e-branch will be constructed in the village center in South Roanoke, bringing library service to a part of the City that has been without.
Helping People and Places
This summer, residents from throughout the region will be able to access professional one-on-one financial counseling services at no additional cost through the Roanoke Financial Empowerment Center. This initiative is a City-led effort, in partnership with Freedom First Enterprises and more than two dozen local nonprofits and service providers. The effort has received initial funding support from the Cities for Financial Empowerment, Norfolk Southern Foundation, and Carilion Clinic Foundation. This initiative will help financially empower residents, making them and their families more successful and resilient.
In 2020, we will see work in the Melrose Orange Target Area begin to wrap up with a streetscape project along portions of Melrose Avenue. This will conclude more than five years of collaborative investment that has resulted in a new library branch, the Community Solutions Center, a new teen center, the Envision Center, more than 100 new or rehabilitated houses, and more than a dozen homes made lead-safe. The effort will culminate with construction of the largest playground in the City through the philanthropic support of the Kiwanis Club of Roanoke. The year 2020 will also see the groundwork established for the next target area, the Belmont-Fallon neighborhoods in Southeast Roanoke.
In 2020, we will see the next cohort of participants in the Regional Accelerator and Mentoring Program, where another group of STEM-related businesses will work with area partners and mentors to accelerate the growth and expansion of their business, bringing more opportunity and vitality to the region.
Goodbye and Welcome
In 2020, we will recognize the decades of public service for a number of City employees as they retire and turn to the next chapter of their lives. Among others, we will say goodbye to an Assistant City Manager, the Chief of Police, the City Clerk, the Public Works Director, and the Superintendent of Schools. With each of these departures will come new faces, as we welcome the next group of dedicated employees who will carry on the great work that those before them initiated.
We will welcome thousands to our community through a series of events—some legacy, others brand new. In addition to the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Local Colors Festival, Go Outside Festival, and Dickens of a Christmas, there will also be the Carilion Clinic IRONMAN® 70.3® Virginia's Blue Ridge triathlon. This new event will garner national attention and is anticipated to bring at least 3,000 participants and thousands of additional supporters, spectators, and others to our City. Roanoke will, of course, serve as a welcoming host for each of these events and all of the other activities that bring people from around the Globe to our wonderful City.
Most significantly, we will, as a City, continue to advance on City Council’s strategic priorities, ensuring we remain a great place to live, work, play, raise a family, learn, and visit. I am happy to acknowledge all that was accomplished in 2019 and look forward to all that 2020 holds in store. Happy New Year!
-- Bob Cowell