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Elmwood Plans Revealed

An artist’s rendering shows Roanoke’s renovated downtown park from a vantage above Carilion Community Hospital looking across Elm Avenue. Roanoke’s Main Library is the brick building in the upper left of the depiction.

by Valerie Garner

Elmwood Park Redesign Moves Ahead With A Few Tweaks

The first conceptual designs were presented for public input in October 2011. The 1500 accumulated comments from those sessions, combined with online comments, were used to craft a final concept design that was available for public viewing at the main library last Thursday.

The wish list of amenities from stakeholders doubled the cost to over $8 million. That design was on display on a “far” wall for future consideration. The affordable Phase I was the real item on display and it met the budgeted $4 million mark.

Rena Cromer with Roanoke Neighborhood Advocates said that she was very upset about the late notice for the open house. A notice went out the day before and she said no RNA members were informed. “They already made their decision and don’t want our input,” she said.

The four main entrances presented would serve the four most populated buildings – the Patrick Henry apartments, Meridium Inc., Jefferson College and the entrance from the Market Square. Ron McCorkle, President of the RNA, said the design and entrances are for downtown residents and that other people are “left out” pointing to where the main entrances are positioned.

Tuesday at Roanoke City Council’s 2:00 p.m. meeting David Hill of Hill Studios gave the Elmwood Park presentation. Hill Studios is receiving $300,000 for the project design. Last minute comments were added including McCorkle’s concerns regarding neighborhood entrances.

Rupert Cutler said to Council, “The park needs to serve those of us who live downtown, with our kids, our dogs, and our need to get out of our apartments and condos and grab some fresh air and exercise.”

The design turns Bullitt Avenue into an “Arts Walk”. Parking on Bullitt would be eliminated but vehicles for the Social Security building employees would be permitted to enter by possibly using a carded gate. The Arts Walk would be 20 feet wide and could accommodate cars and pedestrians. Bestpitch thought they “were missing an opportunity not to have regular traffic through Bullitt Avenue” – making the park more visible. City Manager Chris Morrill added that it could be made into a one-way through street.

The “Tailgate Walk” would be along Jefferson Street. The parallel parking would be changed to diagonal parking, adding 8 spaces. Motorists would be expected to “back into” the spaces and vendors could use them for “tailgating” during festivals; Jefferson would look more like a boulevard.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch was concerned about people parking while driving south on Jefferson. He feared “they would pull straight in.” It would create a hazard with some backed in and others pulled straight in, thought Bestpitch.

The “Saucer Magnolia Allee” would replace the walkway from Market Square; gone would be the lily ponds. There would be water and electricity for tents and fog and light machines.

Jim Lee spoke for Liz Belcher of the Roanoke Valley Greenway Commission, saying that they hadn’t “properly considered” how people would mix with Greenway bikers. “There needs to be improved signage and access,” he said.

The “Performance Venue” would be the realigned stage and would involve extensive grading. It would provide terraced bowl-like grassy seating for 1800 facing the stage. Seating expansion in other areas could increase attendance to 4300. In front of the stage would be an interactive water fountain where visitors could get their feet or anything else wet.

According to Steve Buschor, director of Parks and Recreation, only the black walnut trees would be removed. He said that 70 more trees would be added. The rocks would remain for children to play on; there would be a concession area for 120 vendors and green space that would serve as areas for separate smaller events. Vegetation along Williamson Road would be removed for a clear and open view into the park.

Bestpitch wanted to know about the “tough turf” for vendor parking; he feared it would not be sustainable. Buschor said that if the tough turf failed they would look at using pavers.

Phil Shermer, city engineer, said they would concentrate construction first on the Arts Walk (Bullitt Avenue) and the Saucer Magnolia Allee in hopes of getting that done this year. To avoid disrupting warm weather events, the performance area grading would take place during the off-season – late this fall and early winter.

The $4 million cost breaks down with the stage, grading, and water fountain area costing more than half the total budgeted – $2.2 million. The Arts Walk is about half a million and the Saucer Magnolia Allee another half million. The balance covers the Tailgate Walk, garden and green space plantings.

Buford Overstreet strolled by the conceptual designs at the open house. He has consistently claimed that he could do the whole thing much cheaper. “I can do everything they are doing here and make it more accessible, adaptable and safer for $500,000.”

He attended Tuesday’s council meeting and said Bullitt should be an open street and that he could complete the project in 6 months. He asked Council to postpone their decision. “I don’t like waste when it comes to money.”

Once Council gives their approval it will take 3 to 4 months to complete the architectural plans for the bid process. Shermer was anxious to get started saying, “It is a good bid time.”

City Council gave instructions to return to council in a few weeks for final approval. This will give additional time for more citizen input, explained Mayor Bowers. Councilman Sherman Lea also recognized that not all the citizens of Roanoke visit the park and may not have input.

The project uses local businesses – Hill Studios, Spectrum Design, Mattern and Craig Engineering, Stage Sound and 1717 Design.

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  1. dumb.dumb.dumb!!! Roanoke never seems to know what it has. Always having to uproot the good to replace it with “better”. What’s wrong with the park as it is now? It is used constantly. Just like a park should be… Also, what’s up with taking away all of the vegetation from the Williamson Road side? I thought the point of a park in the city was to feel like you’re in a park, not next to a main road which is directly next to an interstate.

  2. ummm fog machines and lights instead of the lily ponds…really?

    tents??? What??? I thought we were trying to keep the homeless out of the park by taking away the benches from the patron that actually want to USE THE PARK.

    Mr. Bestpitch has right to be concerned about Bullitt Ave. That design is ridiculous. It can’t be both an art walk and a street for the SS building. The cars will tear that up in no time.

    I think we should give Mr. Overstreet the opportunity to present his money saving design to council and the public should vote. Maybe he won’t cut down as many trees and add more concrete?

  3. where are the public restrooms they said they would add after the last public meeting??? they are really needed down there for events.
    Public restrooms were the only thing I requested and I don’t even see them in the plan!

  4. I don’t see anything wrong with Elmwood Park as it is. We have ask for improvements in our neighborhoods and each and every time we are told “Our City Does Not have Any Money.” However, our city has plenty of money to throw away on a park in downtown Roanoke. The Study alone for this redo to Elmwood Park was between $300,000.00 to $350.000.00.. Just for the study!

    Belmont Neighborhood ask for Alley pickup that would have cost much less than it cost for the study, but again we were told “Our City Has No Money.” We have Big Blue trash cans setting out at the walls on the sidewalks on 6th and 5th St SE. This is Ghetto as it can be and If it looks like a Ghetto, it will be a Ghetto. Alley Pickup would have improved our Neighborhood 100%. But no, they could not do that Elmwood Park was more important.

    The homeless are the one’s who use the Park more than anyone else. I guess they wanted to give them a better place to hang out., so they can do drugs, drink, poop, trash the park, etc.

    Our city needs to take a step back and take a good look at it’s self.

  5. Even with this design, there will be lack of public rest rooms in Elmwood – this was requested at first public meetingToo much concrete – permeable surfaces and grass is best to let it remain “a park”
    why are you taking away the benches yet adding tents and fog machines?
    the art walk is a neat idea but there’s not enough room in that park to make it happen. the idea that cars must use it to get to the SS building parking is absurd. it will be torn up easily and pedestrians can’t really walk if cars will be using it.

  6. Hi all, I neglected to add that there are two premanent bathrooms planned positioned next to the state. Those bathrooms/dressing rooms during special events would be for performers. For the average Jill or Joe they will bring in a trailor full of bathrooms. Never used a bathroom in a trailer … seems odd but when ya gotta go …

  7. That is “stage” no “state” – I got conflicting statements about the trees. All elms and birch stay. Black Walnuts go, rocks stay, shrubbery removed from Williamson Road. I didn’t get a clear picture of it. I think we’ll see more detail but I guess any change by then will be too late.

    BTW, there is a difference between a neighborhood park and a community park according to Parks and Rec. Neighborhood in this instance means for the “downtown neighborhood”. Community means a “city park.” That has been the issue we are facing at Countryside. We want neighborhood amenity – Parks and Red want to make a sports complex.

  8. They want to tear how trees and shrubs to “OPEN UP” the park. They want the drive by traffic to be able to see that there is a park there. Never mind that while you are in this beautiful park that you see green instead of roads and traffic. I’m sure they are worried about to many bathrooms being occupied by the Homeless. Of course NO ONE has said how they expect the Homeless to still not occupy the park from all the downtown residents and lunch goes who would jump on using a New Elmwood as compared to those who don’t use the Old Elmwood. It’s supposed to be a “PARK”, all the renovations are to accomodate the vendors for all the festivals and concerts…In short, its all about MONEY, and 4.7 million being spent on something that is not broken. I serve on the Roanoke Parks & Rec. Advisory Board….We have never been given the opportunity to advise on the project…..It’s being rubber stamped and rushed through city council without valid, timely, available times for the public to give their imput.

  9. I believe the bathrooms will only be accessible during events and locked other times. I could be wrong about that. I’d be surprised if the bathrooms would be available 24/7. These are good questions. I think there will be alterations before it comes before council. Too many want bullet a through street and sharing the greenway with pedestrians was also an issue.

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