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Downtown Living Shines

The living quarters for Keith and Cindy Hummer at The Inn on Campbell - a soon to open B&B downtown.

by Gene Marrano

At times the annual Downtown Living Tour, a fundraiser for the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge, resembled a real estate outing, with agents at the ready to point out the features of available spaces or to preview buildings not yet ready for occupancy. Yet what came through at the eight locations on this year’s tour was this: there are a number of very interesting apartment spaces in place or in the works in downtown Roanoke, perfect for empty nesters, single young professionals and couples. Even those with a child or two who are looking for an urban experience would find living in downtown Roanoke unique.

Highlights of the Downtown Living Tour this year included 111 Campbell Avenue, a building that was attached to the structure next door. The Coca-Cola sign that adorned the brick wall on that building is now in the living room of a downtown condo, which features 14-foot ceilings and exposed duct work.

A Coca-Cola sign that was once on the outside of an adjoining building gives an artistic touch to a living room.

Elsewhere, The Lofts at Sixteen West, eight new residential units at 16 Church Street, are part of the renovations underway at what was once an S&W Cafeteria.

Scheduled for completion this year, tenants at the Sixteen West Marketplace also located in the building (which used to house the Downtown Sports Club) will include Comfort Cuisine Market, RAC Xpress (an offshoot of the Roanoke Athletic Club) and Core Chiropractic.

Most of the buildings being renovated or already turned into living units downtown are 50 years old or more; exposed wooden beams, brick walls and large picture windows are features that will remain after renovations.

One apartment complex located away from the core of downtown was on the tour this year—The Lawson Building East, in the old H.L. Lawson building, located at 631 Campbell Avenue SE, across from the Norfolk Southern east end shops in an industrial part of town.

But development is moving its way. The new Community High School / Big Lick Junction apartment complex signals that downtown is heading southeast. The Lawson apartments feature exposed steel beams in what was once an industrial building; the original wooden (refinished) floors feature distress marks from its former days as a work site. On its upper floors, the building also provides a great view of downtown Roanoke, highlighted by the Taubman Museum and the Wells Fargo tower.

Perhaps the most interesting space on the Downtown Living Tour this year also provided a preview of what’s to come in the next month or so: The Inn on Campbell, an upscale bed & breakfast with three units at 118 Campbell Avenue SW.  Owners Keith and Cindy Hummer (he’s in construction management and consulting, she’s an interior designer) have already lived and worked in the building for several years.

With a downturn in the construction business, the Hummers turned their office into living quarters,  and they are completing renovations on three other spaces that will become bed & breakfast suites.

Keith Hummer said they are planning on an early November launch and have already booked several B&B rooms for late this year. “Hotel Roanoke gets about 150 [guests] a night; we just want three of them,” chuckles Hummer.

Target markets include the business sector during the week, with tourists more likely to book rooms over the weekend. The Inn is the first bed & breakfast in the core of downtown, according to Hummer. Nightly rates may start around $140; a communal breakfast will be served in the dining area.

There’s also a small sitting room / library and a space where guests can watch television. Wine tastings and cooking demonstrations by local chefs are among the events being planned by the Hummers. (Their new website, theinnoncampbell.com will soon be up and running; call the Hummers at 400-0183.)

Cindy Hummer is a Roanoke native who was gone from the area for 30 years; she met Keith in 2007. By 2008 they were married and had purchased the three-story building at 118 Campbell. They lived on the top two floors – which was on the Downtown Living Tour several years ago – before moving downstairs into the office space and turning those top two levels into the B&B.

The Hummers looked at a property in Maine for their venture, before deciding that “we were sitting on a good bed and breakfast [in Roanoke],” said Keith Hummer. “We were talking about ways to put the business to good use for us.”  They believe the bed & breakfast venture will provide that opportunity.  Hummer is quick to point out that their concept is not the typical country inn approach. “This is not your grandma’s bed and breakfast. It will be a very elegant, upscale, inner city type experience.”

Each of the three suites will have a different feel. The Campbell Avenue on the second floor features two rooms; one suite has a four person hot tub (The Kirk Avenue) and The Palladium, which used to be the Hummer’s living room, is 30’ by 20’, with 15’ ceilings and a king-sized four poster canopy bed. “I guess you can call that the honeymoon suite,” said Hummer, “it will be beautiful. We’re really excited about it.”

Keith Hummer, also president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, likes the burgeoning residential scene. “It’s really turned into something great. With the Patrick Henry Hotel (also on the tour) now open, there’s that many more people.”

Going from several dozen to more than 600 people living downtown has a “huge impact,” according to Hummer, who expects to see a critical mass build for amenities like a pharmacy, and a grocery store. “It will really make it a great place to live.” Judging by the spaces shown on the Downtown Living Tour, it appears that being in Roanoke’s downtown corridor may already be a great place to live for some.

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