Riverdale project could be ‘transformative’
Partnering with the city of Roanoke, developer Ed Walker started redevelopment of 100 acres encompassing the sprawling, former campus of American Viscose, a rayon plant that closed in 1958.
“This is a chance we have as a community to really do something transformative,” Roanoke Economic Development Director Marc Nelson says.
Located in the city’s southeast quadrant and dubbed Riverdale after the historic name of the neighborhood, the project will include both historic rehab and new construction.
As part of his agreement with the city, Walker will invest at least $50 million over the next 17 years. Walker says it will be the last project of his career.
“These projects take a decade — and this one will take longer — so this is it,” he says. “If I’m lucky, I’ll live long enough to see it somewhat complete. It’s the kind of place that’s never finished. It’s so large and complex.”
Before Walker’s company purchased the property, a group of investors operated it for decades as the Roanoke Industrial Center. Walker hopes to retain many of the businesses currently located there.
By 2043, he hopes the Riverdale neighborhood will offer “everything a great place has — lots of different kinds of people creating a diverse experience that’s enjoyable, safe, affordable, creative, economically powerful, experiential and healthy.” Specifically, he expects it will offer residences, offices, retailers and eateries as well as art studios and outdoors-focused programming.
Riverdale’s first phase, which could be completed by 2029, will include 375 apartments and at least one 3,000-square-foot commercial building.
In January, Roanoke City Council approved a $10 million loan to Walker’s company, Riverdale Southeast LLC, to cover property acquisition and site remediation. If developers invest at least $50 million over 17 years, the loan will be forgiven, according to a performance agreement. Additionally, the developer will receive a real estate tax rebate for 17 years. Currently, the property generates about $100,000 annually, according to Roanoke City Manager Bob Cowell.
A master plan for the project will be put together this year, factoring in input from area residents, city planners, leaders in outdoor sports and national consultants.
Richmond-based Chmura Economics & Analytics looked at the projected impact of Riverdale on construction, commercial operations and household spending in the city of Roanoke from 2023 to 2040 and estimated the initial development plan will have a cumulative economic impact of more than $326 million.