Every summer Roanoke’s mayor delivers the State of the City speech at a breakfast event hosted by the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce.
You can read the entire speech below the fold or by going here.
Then weigh in with your thoughts.
STATE OF THE CITY
July 19, 2012
Mayor David A. Bowers
(Comments herein are subject to being revised)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining me
for my 13th State of the City address. My thanks, once again this year,
to Joyce Waugh and the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce for
sponsoring this annual report for the people of Roanoke.
It is fitting that we gather today in Fitzpatrick Hall. It was my
privilege as Mayor in the 1990’s to participate in the groundbreaking
for this facility. Judge Beverly T Fitzpatrick, Sr., who represents the
best part of Roanoke, once saw his son, the artist, Eric Fitzpatrick,
and I, off at Roanoke’s train depot as we went to a Student
Government Convention in Savannah, Georgia. I have’nt to this day
forgotten the Judge saying to us teenagers then: Boys…you can be
proud of Roanoke!
Last year at Charter Hall in the renovated Roanoke City Market
Building, I spoke of the “Revival of Roanoke.” I believed it then, and I
think we’re seeing evidence of our revival now. Despite a struggling
national economy and problems in other cities and states throughout
the country, Roanoke continues to be stable in its economy and its
government. Over the last four years, with your help, that of other
jurisdictions and agencies, the business community, and the citizens
of Roanoke, we have set a progressive agenda, and we have kept “a
We can all be proud of what we have done and what we’re doing
to do and this gives me the opportunity to report to you on the
accomplishments of the city over the last four years and, now,
because the people have chosen to “stay the course” with this
Roanoke City Council for the next four years, to give you an idea of my
vision for the future of Roanoke.
Before I do, let me ask you to recognize with your thanks the
hard work and good work of our Roanoke City Council and our City
administrative team. In particular, I want to thank Vice Mayor Dave
Trinkle for his service to the people of Roanoke over the last two
years. The new Vice Mayor who will serve for the next two years is
Court Rosen. Please also join me in recognizing my other colleagues
on Roanoke City Council: Anita Price, Bill Bestpitch, Ray Ferris, and
The community has come to truly appreciate City Manager Chris
Morrill and his staff, along with Director of Finance, Ann Shawver, and
others. I have seen a cultural change in the organization of the
Roanoke City Government. I believe that we are doing a much better
job, as I promised we would four years ago, of making sure that
Roanoke City Government has a “Can Do” attitude in dealing with
citizens and our businesses. Our city government is a human
institution, so we fail and get things wrong everyday. But, by and
large, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, our police, fire, social workers,
teachers and other employees of the city get up and approach their
work on behalf of the people of Roanoke with that positive “what can I
do for you attitude?” and that is why, in my opinion, the government
has joined with the other sectors in the community in accomplishing a
progressive agenda for our All-America City.
Let’s review some of our accomplishments.
Roanoke is delivering on its “Big M.A.C” promise to you. We have
made progress with the market, amphitheatre and Countryside.
Less than a year ago, we re-opened the City Market Building, the
heart of our community. Walk through the market and you will see
residents and visitors eating at the many sidewalk restaurants, trading
with the farmers, or visiting the Taubman and other downtown
attractions. Charter Hall on the top floor of the city market is reserved
for wedding receptions, corporate meetings, bar mitzvahs, and other
Downtown living has grown tremendously in the last decade with
more than 250 new units and over $35 million in investment. From
only 10 residents 10 years ago, downtown now boasts a population of
1,200 in 2012.
Roanoke City Council has taken action to move forward with
improvements for the amphitheatre at Elmwood Park. We are
maintaining the green space on 2/3 of the park. Basically, the park
remains a park, and Roanoke’s main library stays right where it is.
The park will continue as the region’s premiere festival park, with all
the many festivals like Local Colors, and the BB&T party in the park on
Thursdays, Henry Street, the Strawberry festival, and all of the many
festivals which occur there for the community. Here you see the
design which will allow the park to be improved with an art walk,
terrace seating, and new stage updated for today’s’ performances.
Some of the renovations and construction will begin this year and we
hope to have the entire park renovated within the next 18 months.
Countryside is the C in BIG MAC. I have driven and walked the
streets of Countryside. There are nice homes out there and that is a
really nice neighborhood, and I want us to pledge to the people who
bought homes and invested in Countryside, that, in the future, their
neighborhood will be just as nice and secure as other neighborhoods
in the city such as Highland Park, Preston Park, and South Roanoke.
They are deserving of that. Roanoke City Council has now adopted a
plan that assures that 50% of the Countryside neighborhood is
maintained as green space such as agricultural land, forests, or
recreational use. The City Manager is now proposing that a branch
library be placed in the neighborhood. I hope we now have a good plan
in place to save and improve the Countryside neighborhood. We owe
that to the homeowners there just as we should in the neighborhood
that you might live in Roanoke.
I want to now talk about the schools. While the public has
maintained stability at Roanoke City Council, we have also maintained
stability on our School Board and that has sent a strong message for
support to our Superintendent and the many fine accomplishments Dr.
Rita Bishop is doing to improve our Roanoke city schools. Every
school in Roanoke is accredited and our graduation rate is going up.
We’re trying to meet additional challenges for our young people with
tutoring and the Congregations-In-Action group continues to bring
interested volunteers and senior citizens into our schools to assist our
young people with their needs. However, you need to know that the
Commonwealth, which is constitutionally required to provide public
education for the children of Virginia, is not meeting its duty. The
General Assembly of Virginia is very slyly shifting the burden of public
education from the state level to the local level. It is happening in
every community, and many communities, even right around us, are
having to decide whether to close schools or cut back on sports and
other extra curricular activities. Roanoke positioned its schools well
with that 2 cent meals tax which just expired on June 30, 2012.
However, Chairman Dave Carson has continued to issue a clarion call
to our legislators, our City Council, you the business community, and
our citizens that we must consider other funding sources as our state
continues to devolve the responsibility of public education onto
localities. The state is passing the buck, and we’ve got to find the
bucks to continue to make our school system one that serves student
needs and one in which our citizens can be proud.
Our 28 miles of greenways are popular with our citizens. We
expanded the greenway to the east from the treatment plant across
the Roanoke river to Tinker Creek. If you have not been on that
stretch, which is a little strenuous because of the hill, you should take
a walk or bicycle over there. As you cross the Roanoke River on that
new bridge, you would not believe that you’re in the middle of a
metropolitan area. It is a beautiful view of our river. The greenway
has expanded to the west from Vic Thomas park at Memorial Bridge to
Norwich, but we have a gap of about 2.5 miles which needs to be
completed and the cost is $7.5 million, of which the City has
committed $200,000. Please consider a donation to the greenway
commission, which is about halfway to its goal in having its funds
available to expand westward towards Salem. Just 20 years ago when
I started as Mayor, we didn’t have the trails on Mill Mountain and the
greenways. Roanokers need to “Shape Up” and the greenways
provide for our citizens a place for the exercise they need so we can
shape up and prevent health problems of diabetes, heart attack,
stroke, and obesity. Hypocrites had an oath, but one of his other great
comments was “Walking is the best medicine” and that’s the message
we need to make sure our citizens hear.
Roanoke has been recognized in the Commonwealth and
nationally for investments in a healthier, more sustainable community.
• For 2011, the city’s yearly recycling rate was 54 percent,
but we should still recycle more.
• As a result of our progress in accommodating bicyclists on
city streets, the City of Roanoke has retained its Bronze
status as a Bicycle Friendly Community for 2012.
• During the last weekend in April, the roof on City Hall was
turned green. The green roof is installed on top of an
existing roof to reduce heating and cooling loads by
increasing insulation, absorbing noise, and helping to
sustain a healthy habitat for butterflies, and songbirds. It
will also extend the life of the roof from 20 to 60 years.
Our Community has made great strides in a building collaborative
program to improve childhood education: The United Way, TAP, City
Libraries, City Schools, the Virginia Tech Research Center, and Smart
Beginnings understand, as every parent should, that 85% of a child’s
brain is formed before age 5. In our area, 5000 children under that age
may not be receiving quality preparation for kindergarten. We need a
“smart beginning” for every Roanoke pre-K child, and we need to
continue that intensive education for every Roanoke child in programs
such as our 3rd grade “Star City Reads” program, which put us in the
finals of the All America City competition. Let’s make these
investments in our youngest children so that, someday, a cute kid like
this may be Chairman of the board at your business.
Wow…am I proud of our Virginia Western Community College, which
provides collegiate education to about 13,000 students right here in
our valley. Just think of what a huge economic impact that has
now….and will in the future.
Virginia Western is expanding…and we need to make sure that the
college has a beautiful Colonial Avenue Boulevard entranceway and
that the Commonwealth will build parking garages so as to protect
Congratulations to President Bobby Sandel of Virginia Western,
along with President N.L. Bishop of Jefferson College, on their
leadership in educating thousands of young people so that they will
find their opportunity here in Roanoke.
The biggest economic development in Roanoke since the railroad
came to town 125 years ago is the creation of the Virginia
Tech/Carilion Medical School. Thank you Virginia Tech president
Charlie Steger and former Carilion executive Ed Murphy, alone, with
Dean Cynda Johnson and research director Dr. Michael Friedlander, for
making this success story happen.
The positive/growth-oriented impact of VTC on the Roanoke Valley
is enormous and immeasurable.
Already Roanoke has seen $100 million of development at
VTC/Carilion Clinic and Cambria Suites. However, the best is yet to
come…with announcements very soon for still millions of development
in condos and apartments and businesses at Riverside Center. Bring it
on! It will transform the skyline along I-581 south.
We must also move forward expeditiously on the Valley View south
I-581 interchange. This is significant to the economic development of
the northern part of the center city.
The partial Valley View south interchange was built in the mid
1990’s when I earlier served as Mayor. It was built for $7 million
entirely with city funds. Just think of the economic development
impact of that decision with the building of Best Buy, Target, and the
Now, VDOT has in the bank $70 million for the full build-out of the
interchange. We must press VDOT to move expeditiously, so that 100
acres on the west side of I-581 from Valley View, known as Evans
Springs can be transformed from undeveloped and unused land into a
$100 million investment as a “town center” with single family homes,
condos, parks and greenways, hotels, restaurants, and businesses.
Let’s get the passenger train to Roanoke…Let’s get the train here.
So we can hop on early in the morning…and get to Washington by
lunchtime…and to New York in time to check-in to a hotel, and catch a
Broadway show that same evening.
I’m working with our very popular state senator, John Edwards, to
extend Amtrak from Lynchburg station to Roanoke. Taking the bus to
and from Lynchburg is a great way to travel, and if you haven’t tried it,
for business or pleasure, you should. But…Our goal is to get the train
Roanoke may need to invest taxpayers’ dollars to have a depot
ready downtown, but I’m committed, as our citizens are, to see that
train come to Roanoke.
Winter Sports like ice hockey, public skating and competition figure
skating are an economic development need for Roanoke.
Area colleges such as Virginia Tech, Roanoke, and Radford-6 in allnow
have NCAA teams that have to go to Lynchburg or Winston-Salem
just to practice. How can we expect these eager collegiate athletes
to complete nationally when they must travel through the dark of night
just to practice?
City Councilman Sherman Lea and I support wholeheartedly efforts
for the Ice Valley ice rink. It is needed, and Roanoke needs to this
year step up and fill the “hole in the ice” of our region. Let’s all
support the Ice Valley initiative.
We live in one of the most beautiful regions of the world, and we are
blessed with the wonderful people who’ve been drawn here from the 4
corners of the Earth. When God created this magnificent place, he
didn’t create a “Roanoke City” or “Roanoke County” or “Salem” or
“Fincastle” or “Blacksburg”. And the people who live in the cities,
towns, and counties that surround Roanoke do not exist in those
wonderful places in a vacuum. The region’s well being is
interdependent and we are honored to have many of the leaders of our
regional partners here with us today.
In this global economy, Roanoke is not competing with Salem, or
Blacksburg, or even Lynchburg. We are competing with Greensboro,
Asheville, Chattanooga, and Cities in India. Our assets to retain and
attract businesses with good paying jobs are greatly improved when
we promote all of our regional assets.
We need to more intentionally look for ways to share our assets and
work jointly to retain and attract businesses that will help us build a
We have a track record of success when we have collaborated
regionally such as the Resource Authority, Western Virginia Water
Authority, the Regional Partnership, the Convention and Visitors
Bureau, and the Regional Fire Training Academy. But we cannot stop
We must seize opportunities to make our region more competitive
and provide services more effectively at a lower cost to local
governments working together. A good example is public safety.
Criminals do not consider jurisdictional boundaries when they commit
crimes. We have made progress in sharing crime information through
a regional system, Roanoke Area Criminal Justice Information
Network (RACJIN), we have a joint fire training facility, and local
governments in the valley jointly operate a digital radio system.
Stormwater quality is another area where success will depend on a
regional approach. Fifteen watersheds run through Roanoke City, of
which only one is completely within the city’s borders. As we are
forced to meet more stringent national stormwater requirements –or
face large fines- we can reduce implementation costs – and clean up
our rivers and streams by attacking it regionally.
And turning to economic development, the entire Roanoke Valley is
not only behind Charlotte and Chattanooga on the digital highway, but
also behind Danville, Martinsville, Bristol, and Galax. If we are to keep
our current businesses and remain competitive in recruiting new ones
we have to provide affordable, open access, high speed broadband
fiber. Thanks in large part to the hard work of former Delegate William
Fralin and Mayor Randy Foley of Salem, we recently completed a
regional plan that shows us how to build this critical infrastructure of
the 21st century. But just like our highways, it must connect through
our local jurisdictions. Our region will be left further behind if we do
not act quickly, and together to install high speed broadband.
The City of Roanoke looks forward to working with our neighbors so
that, together, we can improve the quality of life and economic
prospects of all our citizens. In short, the State of the City is the State
of our Region. It is incumbent on me as Mayor and representative of
our region to tell you that, in my opinion, relations between Roanoke,
Salem, Roanoke County, and Vinton have never been better. Elected
and executive people are working hard, enthusiastically, and sincerely
together for progress for the people of each and every jurisdiction. We
in Roanoke Valley have never seen before this level of regional
cooperation. I’ve got to take a moment to ask you to join with me in
congratulating all involved for this progressive spirit and progressive
cooperation for our Valley.
Now, as we look to the future of our region, as one of many citizens
interested in the greater Roanoke region, I see 3 Challenges and …it is
time to “ACT Now,” for our future economic development.
“A” stands for academic economic development.
“C” stands for cultural economic development.
“T” stands for tourism economic development.
The question I pose for all the citizens of the Roanoke Valley is
begin to think: What is it that will put Roanoke on the map? What is it
that will distinguish Roanoke from the Greensboro’s and Asheville’s,
and Chattanooga’s, so that the Roanoke Valley will surely be the star
of Virginia’s Blue Ridge in the future.
Well first…I issue an academic economic development challenge.
The “A” in ACT/Now.
City Manager Chris Morrill agrees that this is an important challenge
for our region and, subject to City Council approval, he agrees to
accept the responsibility for organizing a regional response to this
Chris Morrill has seen how the Savannah College of Art and Design
has helped to rejuvenate his former hometown…and now he reports to
me that Mercer University is moving their Law School onto downtown
Savannah. Watch Savannah grow as a result of their 2 academic
economic development initiatives in that historic city.
Let us…as a region…come to an understanding that post-graduate
academic development is good sound economic development.
Bringing an art school or law school is a good idea for Roanoke, too!
Bringing Campbell Law School into downtown Raleigh from Buies
Creek has been a good, sound investment for that university and that
city. Bringing Elon Law School from Elon 18 miles into the heart of
Greensboro has been good for Elon and good for Greensboro. Bringing
Clemson’s graduate MBA program into downtown Greenville, South
Carolina, has, by all indications, been a tremendously successful move
for both Clemson and Greenville.
My thanks to our forward-thinking and popular City Manager Chris
Morrill, who has recently been elected President of the international
Government Finance Officers Association, for agreeing to organize
government, business and citizen support to meet the challenge for
Roanoke’s academic development.
Now let me address “cultural” economic development.
Nowhere in any mid-size city in America are there the unique
cultural activities as in Roanoke. From the time-honored Roanoke
Symphony to the always interesting Taubman Museum, our struggling
Mill Mountain Zoo and to Bev Fitzpatrick’s success in drawing 3 times
the number of visitors to the Virginia Museum of Transportation…and,
Center in the Square’s multi-million dollar upgrade, the first in 20
years, the Roanoke Valley is alive with the arts and performing arts.
We even have public art in our neighborhoods, which is popular with
our citizens who understand the positive impression that art can have
in our lives.
I issued this “C” challenge for cultural economic development and
I’m pleased to announce that former Vice Mayor David Trinkle and
Roanoke philanthropist David Wine are organizing a local committee to
address the financial and organizational demands facing the
sustainability of our many cultural and arts organizations in the future.
If we do not address the crisis, that some of our cultural
organizations and museums are facing, then we will lose them and
their doors will close.
It is imperative that we ACT/Now to build a sustainable foundation
for Roanoke’s cultural economy. These cultural and arts organizations
and museums contribute immensely to our quality of life and economic
vitality, and we in this entire region need to understand that and
support a solution to this challenge.
Now let me talk about the “T” in ACT/Now…Tourism economic
What puts Roanoke on the map? Well…at a meeting back in 1992
when I said Roanoke should be a tourist destination like Asheville and
Chattanooga, someone in the audience snickered.
The challenge is just as great 20 years later. Roanoke needs to
connect to its mountains and river and that’s the conclusion of the
CVB its new “Virginia’s Blue Ridge” branding.
We need to connect our mountain, Mill Mountain, to our city.
Whether its an incline or other idea, that’s what will put Roanoke on
Now, make no mistake about it…I’m not recommending economic
development up there…that’s not the solution. I’m suggesting we
create a tourist destination that will generate economic development
down here. We do not need restaurants and hotels and more parking
lots and loading docks up there. But “getting there” may be a draw to
tourists and that’s our Roanoke tourist destination in the future.
I believe the CVB’s Bart Wilner, Lee Wilhelm, and Landon Howard
are excited about this challenge and will have more to say about this
soon. The CVB accepts the challenge to work with the valley’s
governments, community groups and chambers to create a
“destination vision” for our Roanoke Valley.
Let us, as a region accept these 3 challenges and let’s “ACT Now”
to enhance the Roanoke Valley’s academic, cultural, and tourism
economic development for our future.
These are exciting times for our city. We are fortunate to enjoy a
revival of Roanoke. People are still telling me, as I stated in last
year’s in the State of the City that they are interested in moving into
the city. They like the excitement of living in downtown Roanoke and
that’s why hundreds are moving into the center city. They like the
diversity of our city. Pearl Fu and our Local Colors announced in may
that we now have 100 nationalities living in Roanoke, VA. This helps
to make us the “Star” of Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
I began this talk with the account of Judge Fitzpatrick sending
Eric and me off on the train telling us “Be proud of Roanoke!”
As a teenager, I don’t know that I truly appreciated what the
Judge was saying.
But now, several decades later, as I begin my 4th term as your
Mayor, Judge’s words come back to me as I, along with you, witness
the progress of our All America City, and the revival of Roanoke.
Proud of Roanoke?
You bet I am!
DAVID A. BOWERS, MAYOR OF ROANOKE