Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Roanoke Times June 23 2007

'Keeping it Floyd'

Investors and officials hope to improve the town while preserving its unique character.

FLOYD -- When other communities welcome large, multimillion-dollar developments into their midst, the changes often involve trendy national retailers in sleek modern structures.

Not so with Floyd.

In the next year, a slate of big-dollar investments is expected to significantly alter the face of the town's downtown corridor. But as is perhaps to be expected in a place known for its laid-back, alternative culture, the projects are local and artsy -- aimed more at preservation than transformation.

Among them is a 14-room hotel, a 14-store retail structure and a 15,000-square-foot commercial and residential project. Intermixed with these investments, the town is planning several landscape and infrastructure improvements. And all told, Floyd anticipates a $6 million face-lift, funded by grant, town and private dollars.

"The changes that are occurring in the town are for the better, but keeping it Floyd," Town Manager Michael Maslaney said. "Floyd is an eclectic mix of a lot of different cultures and a lot of different things ... and I think everybody has an interest -- and certainly the town council has -- in keeping it in that same mode."

Jack Wall, local businessman and co-owner of the soon-to-open Hotel Floyd, agreed.

"What we want is a pedestrian community that provides lots of great cultural events that people can go to" -- not, he makes sure to point out, a cookie-cutter suburb or tourist hot spot.

"We can't afford to allow Floyd to go the way of other communities," Wall said. "We've got to keep away from the big-box stores and, in order to do that, you've got to have private investors in town that will help take control over buildings and the marketing and development of our own businesses."

The result is projects such as Hotel Floyd.

In its first phase, the hotel will have 14 rooms, each decorated by a different Floyd business or association. Once available for occupancy Sept. 1, the rooms will feature locally made art and crafts.

Wall said he and his wife, Kamala Bauers, began thinking about building the hotel a few years ago, but a feasibility study raised questions about whether there was enough downtown activity to support it.

Their concern turned to confidence, however, when they learned of other revitalization efforts.

"The conservative estimate -- very conservative estimate -- is there's been about $4 million in private-sector investment to about $2 million of grant money," Bauers said. "I see Floyd and all of this investment as creating a really special place for the people who live here, and that's as important to me as how it appeals to visitors."

So important, in fact, that Wall and Bauers are investing not only in their own project but also in some of the others.

The first phase of the hotel is expected to cost $2 million. A second phase, expected to be constructed in a couple of years for $6 million, will likely add 41 units, a conference center, swimming pool and restaurant. In addition, Wall and Bauers say they're investing $50,000 in Village Green, $25,000 in Village Square and have donated land to the town for use as a park.

"We're choosing to invest some of the excess money we've earned from our business back into the economy of Floyd rather than buying expensive cars or big houses," said Wall, who is director of Wall Residences.

Woody Crenshaw, owner of Crenshaw Lighting Corp., seems to be operating on the same principle.

Two years ago, Crenshaw and his wife, Jackie, bought the Floyd Country Store, and this weekend, the pair will unveil a host of renovations.

Once known simply as a music venue, the home of the Friday Night Jamboree now offers dining, clothing and other items.

And Crenshaw is turning his attention to acting as managing partner of both Village Green and Village Square despite "having no experience whatsoever in commercial real estate development."

Expected to open by Sept. 1, the 10,000-square-foot Village Green will house 14 locally owned businesses.

The property, Crenshaw noted, once held an old grocery store, and when it closed, it left a considerable hole downtown.

"Generally speaking, when that happens, it creates a kind of void and a kind of blight and can lead to the decline of a downtown, so we felt it was really important to open this building up to allow this new vital business environment to be generated," he said.

A similar attitude was applied to the building that once held Mama Lazardo's Pizza & Subs.

Renamed Village Square, the 15,000-square-foot development will, once renovation work is complete around year's end, hold restaurant, retail and office space on its ground floor, as well as nine upper-level, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Costing $1 million each, the Village Green and Village Square projects are jointly owned by about a dozen families each, including the Crenshaws.

"What's happening here in Floyd is an attempt to develop an economic strategy that's based on the arts and music and a quality of life," Woody Crenshaw said. "We think the center of town could become one of the most interesting art communities in the state."

For evidence of this, Crenshaw just has to look down Locust Street where Winter Sun now boasts its own renovations. There, the building's basement has been converted from storage space into a collection of art galleries and craft shops. A Mexican restaurant is also set to open in August.

Along with these investments by the private sector, the town is working on a slew of improvements to infrastructure and recreation.

Maslaney said those improvements will come largely as a result of two grants received in the past 16 months.

One, a $500,000 enhancement grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation, will be used to widen sidewalks, create walking paths and clean up the Old Jacksonville Cemetery.

The other, a $1 million Community Development Block Grant, will help fund a new, 36-spot parking lot across the street from the Floyd Country Store; a building facade improvement program currently involving a dozen downtown businesses and a pool of loan money available to new and expanding businesses.

The town will pay for recreation amenities at Warren G. Lineberry Memorial Park.

Maslaney said several of the projects will be complete by the end of the year, including the parking lot, new public restrooms and most building facade upgrades.

Improvements to the cemetery and walking trails are expected to be done between December and February. Work on the Warren G. Lineberry Memorial Park is likely to start next spring or summer.

With so much in the pipeline, the scope of development has taken some residents by surprise.

"I think these changes are great," said Marsha Slopey Paulekas, a member of the Floyd Arts Association. "I just hope Floyd knows when to quit -- it's a little scary."

To inform, gather feedback from -- and maybe even reassure -- residents about the developments, the town and citizen group Partnership for Floyd will host an ice cream social and lead downtown tours this afternoon.

What they will likely find, said Floyd Mayor Skip Bishop, is "we're not changing the character of the town, we're just changing the appearance, cleaning it up, making it look nice."

Staff writer Tamara Gaskin contributed to this report.

return to Partnership for Floyd Home Page

No comments: