Roanoke clears path for more downtown development
Roanoke developer Lucas Thornton hopes to break ground this summer on a multimillion-dollar renovation project that will transform what is now Campbell Court Transportation Center, the city’s rundown bus station, into an office tower and another building with apartments and retail space.
Thornton’s $35 million development, tentatively named Randolph Street, inched closer to becoming reality in mid-November 2020, when members of Roanoke’s City Council voted unanimously to amend the city’s zoning ordinance so public transit centers are allowed downtown by right.
The city’s plan to build a $9.8 million Valley Metro bus station on what is now a parking lot on the corner of Salem Avenue and Third Street met with opposition earlier in the year. Citizens spoke out against the location, saying it sits too close to a section of downtown that is enjoying success from several revitalization projects. Popular restaurants, residences and a microbrewery now punctuate a street previously lined by light industrial and warehouses.
Richmond-based developer Bill Chapman, who is responsible for many of the successful Salem Avenue projects, was an especially vocal critic of the bus station site and offered to build an apartment complex on the proposed site in exchange for moving the station four blocks west — a plan rejected by council because the site was considered too far from the center of downtown. Chapman declined to comment for this article.
Hearing the concerns, the city Board of Zoning Appeals voted in August 2020 against granting a special-use exception for the bus station to be built at the parking lot. The city could have appealed the decision in court, but instead councilors amended the zoning ordinance to allow for the new station.
Thornton, managing partner of Hist:Re Partners, is optimistic he may see construction on the mixed-use Randolph Street project begin in June, with an opening date planned for fall 2022. The project will include a 60,000-square-foot office tower, about 12,000 square feet of retail space, 90 apartments, 15 homes and a pedestrian courtyard, Thornton says. The majority of the commercial and retail spaces have tenants lined up, he said.
City Manager Bob Cowell calls the Randolph Street development “an exciting chapter in downtown’s continued renewal.” Lucas also is developing a four-story apartment building in Roanoke across from Norfolk Southern Corp’s former locomotive shops, which closed in May 2020.