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“New” Patrick Henry Ready For Occupancy


Reception attendees gather in the renovated lobby area.

by Gene Marrano

The 133 apartments are nearly all rented, the ballroom finally has air conditioning and the paint is dry – the “new” Patrick Henry Hotel is just about ready for occupancy. Developer Ed Walker said last week at the ribbon cutting that the first residential tenants should start moving in over the next few weeks.

In the coming months, commercial tenants – including Foundation for Roanoke Valley, Uptown Joe’s (a spinoff of Blue Collar Joe’s donut shop) and 101.5 The Music Place radio station – now owned by Walker’s CityWorks foundation – will also move into the former hotel, which had fallen on hard times and was in disrepair before Walker purchased the property.

“What you see before you is a little short of amazing. I think Roanoke should be proud of Ed Walker,” said Patrick Henry himself – well, maybe an actor playing Patrick Henry, just before the ribbon cutting. Walker called the 20-month renovation project a “spectacular success,” and spoke of the “complete and total train wreck,” that the hotel was before its makeover.

He wanted to “keep the things that are extraordinary” about the venerable hotel during its transformation into a mixed-use space. Walker called the lobby, which is much more spacious with the removal of the hotel checkout desk, and now features a large, dark wood bar at one end “the handsomest room in Roanoke.” Next to the bar is the entrance to a new restaurant, where Hunter’s Grille used to be, scheduled to open by this fall. “I’m looking forward to being a customer at the restaurant,” said Walker.

Walker also heaped praise on Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill, who cut the ribbon, and on the city itself: “you have to have community-minded private business … and good government [working together],” said Walker, “Roanoke has a lot to be proud of in every way. There [was] a teamwork attitude.”

Being on the National Historic Register meant “a lot of hoops to jump through,” but Walker said that wasn’t new for him. Next up could be a transformation of the Ice House building in Wasena that Walker also owns, and hopes to turn into another mixed use property. “I would love to be able to do the Ice House,” said Walker, “but you can’t predict with any certainty what will happen.”

Studio, one and two bedroom apartments, and a three story penthouse, range from around $500 to over $1000 per month at the Patrick Henry, although most have been snapped up, some by nursing students going to school nearby at Jefferson College. “I’m grateful and encouraged [by the response],” said Walker, who says he is still trying to gauge where the “equilibrium” is in Roanoke’s downtown housing market.

Walker also thanked his development team of more than a dozen in making the project go: “they’ve been there day in and day out. At times it was next to impossible.”

Former City Manager Bern Ewert came to the ribbon cutting and a reception that same night, marveling at the changes to the Patrick Henry. Ewert was in office when the city put together a visioning plan more than 30 years ago, a plan that saw a demand for downtown housing. It has taken several decades, however, for that momentum to build.

“There was a belief that downtown couldn’t be saved,” recalled Ewert, who conducted a “design-a-thon,” on television that encompassed changes to the market area, Elmwood Park, Center in the Square, and surrounding areas. “What you see downtown [now] is what took place.”

Ewert said the housing demand in urban spaces like downtown Roanoke “is the last thing that happened. People did not want to live downtown [30 years ago].” He would like to see a downtown movie house, maybe with six screens, to help attract more people to the city and its businesses. Ewert commended Walker on his development work, helping to save some of the older structures highlighted in his Design ’79 plan.

Ed Walker said he’s not interested in legacy, and doesn’t think about that when passing by other older structures he’s redeveloped in downtown Roanoke, like the Cotton Mills. “What’s really interesting to me is achievement.”


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