Roanoke, Va., to Get New Office Building

Jul. 14--The Roanoke City Market, already buzzing with plans for an aesthetic overhaul and construction nearby of the ultramodern new art museum, is poised to get just its second new building in nearly 90 years.

The two-story, 8,000-square-foot brick building is planned for 308-310 Market St. S.E., where there's now a cramped parking lot beside Sam's on the Market. It will feature office space upstairs and two storefront retail spaces on the first floor.

The city's Architectural Review Board, which oversees the historic district that encompasses the market, on Thursday unanimously approved the building, which will be just a few doors down from the Wickline building erected in 2002.

The new building will be constructed by VACO Risk Management Programs. The company has its offices on the second floor of the building next door to the lot, which houses the La De Da clothing store, but needs more space. VACO bought the parking lot, with space for about 20 cars, for $500,000 in June, said Chris Carey, assistant administrator for VACO.

"It's really just an expansion," Carey said. "Basically, the only option we would have would be to remove retail space downstairs, and that's not an option that we would want to take."

The company considered adding another floor to its building, but ruled out that idea because of restrictions placed on it by the ARB.

The panel is well-known for its highly detail-oriented safeguarding of the city's historic districts.

Those who have been before the board know its thirst for knowing exactly what builders or renovators want to do.

To that end, Carey and architect Todd Setliff of Hill Studios showed up for Thursday's presentation with not only a sample window and bricks, but also a 30-pound, 2-foot sample section of a decorative steel beam that will be part of the building's facade.

"They're pretty picky," Setliff said.

The trick of designing the building, was "trying to help it fit in but keep it with our time," so it architecturally represents the era in which it will be built.

Setliff gave color samples to the board, from the Chatham Gray brick to the Sherwin Williams "Isle of Pine" green on the windows and other trim.

Board Chairwoman Lora Katz nodded approvingly at the steel beam sample when Carey held it up.

Details like the place of diamond designs in relation to the mullions on the storefront windows and the width of the building's cornice were debated or questioned.

In the end, the board liked it, though two members had to recuse themselves because they work with Setliff, and a third was absent.

"It's a nice project," Katz said.

"This kind of investment in our historic district is really a feather in our cap," said Bob Richert.

The last new building in the city market area went up in 2002 at Market Street and Kirk Avenue. The Wickline building was also constructed in a tiny parking lot and is named for an amiable homeless man named Charlie Wickline who used to sleep there.

Prior to that, no new building had been erected in the area for 85 years.

But the market is abuzz with change these days. Besides the modern and controversial Art Museum of Western Virginia now under construction between Salem and Norfolk avenues, the city also recently commissioned a study of how to renovate the market area. That plan includes an overhaul of the nearby City Market Building and adding balconies to many market square buildings to create a New Orleans-type atmosphere.

With three retailers in its current building, Carey said, VACO expects plenty of interest in the two retail spaces in the new building.

Roger Elkin, a commercial Realtor specializing in retail sites for Hall and Associates, said such a building would be ill-advised if it were purely a speculative project. The fact that VACO will use the office space for itself makes it more sensible.

He agrees the retail space will be in demand.

"You're in a better position today than two or three years ago," he said.

"Part of their demand, they created," he said of VACO because of its renovation and handling of the retail spaces in its building. It's been helped by the advent of Trio, the combination restaurant, bar and wine shop at the other corner of Market Street and Church Avenue.

The shops and restaurant have created a reason for visitors to explore that part of the market.

"They've really taken it from being the poor stepchild on the market to being one of the most in demand parts," Elkin said.

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