Elmwood Design Stays on Track

March 9, 2011

The need for a better outdoor music and entertainment venue at Elmwood Park in downtown Roanoke took another step toward reality this week. City Council tabled the project a while ago due to the economy and the obvious need to stay within our city debt limits. At the last meeting when capital projects were discussed, city council unanimously instructed the City Manager to re-work the design internally with desires to focus on downsizing the project, allowing for phasing of construction, an eye toward preserved green space and more park usage — specifically starting with an improved stage/back of house/access and restrooms for our many successful festivals and concerts in the park. Previous studies have been done with experts in the field showing potential success of an outdoor venue in downtown Roanoke. The idea was to use these studies that did indeed come at a cost to help with this design to allow the project to progress to the construction bidding process.

On Monday, City Council was asked to consider allocating $300,000 to complete designs for the park based on our desire to downsize the project; start with the staging and grading; allow for phasing of future amenities based on demand; redesign the park for better green space; and redesign the back of the library to allow better daily park and library usage (for example, restrooms and a cafe with outdoor dining).

Roanoke does have a history of studying things forever and failing to use the studies to make informed decisions and move on one way or another. I am very aware of this and try daily to avoid this. In this case, it is absolutely not another study. It is the reasonable next step in an unfortunately long progression (thank you economy) to assuring that Roanoke has a signature urban city park worthy to continue to host the amazingly successful events and festivals that are indeed Roanoke. A park and stage worthy of our progressive mid-sized city. A park with events that will stoke economic development throughout our region, especially in downtown and will continue to add our growing vibe as an outdoor, green, music city.

If we can get to documents that can be put out to bid for $300,000 and we stay on track with the next step- we have made a good move and a good decision and have gotten a bargain. The next step cannot happen without these type of documents and designs made with a reflection to our history, studies done to date and public input on the newest, albeit downsized, plans. It is a logical and good next step.

What are your thoughts?

The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Amphitheatre

July 20, 2009

Certainly I am disappointed with today’s council vote. I believe in my heart of hearts- with all the arguments presented over many years and all the consultant reports (costing upwards of $800,000) in previous council meetings and on this blog- that a downtown Roanoke Amphitheatre in Elmwood Park coming on line in three to four years will be best thing for downtown Roanoke, economic development and population growth that council can do in its Capital Improvement Plan next to a renovated market building. Two weeks ago the A and E design phase for an amphitheatre was approved 6-1, today without any new information and in my long planned absence it was voted down 4-2.

I am disappointed that it won’t happen but I am also disappointed that my colleagues on city council who had promised me they would table it so we could ALL be present to debate it did not do so. I spent a lot of time over the weekend sending out emails outlining the reasons behind my point of view. There are very many real concerns about this project but council over years has enlisted the advice of numerous consultants that have all supported the economic benefits and viability of an outdoor performing arts venue that would host concerts, festivals, even high school graduations.

If I knew then what I know now, I honestly do not believe I would support the tearing down of the obsolete Victory Stadium. If I knew how hard it was to start bold capital improvement projects in Roanoke, I would have supported a renovation of Victory Stadium to present day usage- namely an outdoor performing arts venue. I ran- with current council member Mrs. Mason on this issue. I supported Mr. Rosen and Vice Mayor Lea who said they supported the concept. Kudos to our leaders from long ago who actually built a 20,000 seat stadium that was well used and had an economic impact for decades. Yes we are in a recession, but after years of planning the debt for this project phased over the next 4 years had been long planned and financially we were and have been ready to go on what citizens labelled as the number two desired park and recreation capital project (next to greenways).

What are we going to do with that debt issuance now? I really don’t think anybody knows at this point- possibly just do nothing- that is certainly the easier decision. I am afraid politics entered the picture here- otherwise why did Mason, Rosen and Lea all vote for the project just two weeks ago. Again no other new information has been provided in the intervening two weeks. I can understand voting against it today from a political standpoint but why vote for it two weeks ago?

Ok I feel better. The last point I want to make is that the MAIN reason I ran for council three years ago was that I was tired of issues never being resolved on Roanoke City Council- decisions, if they occurred, were often changed, revoted on or scrapped well into the process. This was a very real concern with a long amphitheatre capital project- but one that elected leaders must chose to ignore and make the most informed decisions at the present time that they think are best for the city- no matter what they fear may happen six months or a year or two years down the road.

So with all this said- I will not participate in rehashing decided issues. As of today, the amphitheatre project is dead and I for one will not be bringing it up again. There are many other issues- though this one has been tied to me given my interest, my beliefs and the time I have taken to understand it well- that I also support, understand very well, have researched and will be pushing for this council. I intend to be a team/council player, one that can debate as best I can on issues and win or lose move on to the next issue. While I thought this issue had been decided by an informed super majority two weeks ago, I was wrong - but in my mind - today was the final vote.  Given that this Odyssey is over I can only hope for a Brave New World on Roanoke City Council.

What are your thoughts?


PS: the picture to the left is the design planned for Elmwood Park

The Amphitheatre (again!) and Roanoke’s Capital Improvement Plan

July 19, 2009

The Amphitheatre was approved and added to the city’s capital improvement plan two weeks ago. Over the last week there has been some thought to revisit the issue again and possibly re-vote on it. Much study has been done over numerous years along with much public input regarding the Amphitheatre. I have now been convinced it can fit into Elmwood park while also enhancing the park and greenspace and the rear of the library. I also believe usage will be better and it will have a more immediate economic impact by being downtown. The plans for the amphitheatre and our potential relationship with Red Light Management can be found on the city web-page.

This is an expensive and bold project but this council and the one before me has been planning for capital funding finally going to the city’s park and recreation dept and facilities in our city. We have focused appropriately for years on Fire and EMS, and School capital needs (two brand new high schools coming on line). Through numerous studies, the amphitheatre has been listed by citizens and staff as their number 2 or 3 priority. In addition to planned capital funding, there is also some funding remaining from the victory stadium saga. The debt service has been budgeted and the debt has been planned.

Two weeks ago council voted 6-1 to move to the architectural and engineering design of the amphitheatre which will include a more refined operating budget and a better assessment of the need for a municipal subsidy year to year. Red Light has given broad estimates of a possible subsidy which all municipal amphitheatres and facilities (eg civic centers, pools, etc) carry (if they didn’t the private sector would be in this business).

The question that is causing some council members to rethink their vote is the extent of the subsidy- which is not the $500,000 that some are saying- this figure was the high end for a larger amphitheatre by the river without the revenue stream that Elmwood creates (outdoor concessions daily for the downtown lunch crowd, coffee/cafe for the library etc)- we will learn this early in the A and E process and design the amphitheatre to best improve the operating potential for the venue. The A and E contract can include budget requirements including construction and operating budgets that the design will predict. The other concern is the time line- the A and E will take about 14 months and the construction about 2 years- both phases will spread over two years- currently construction in our capital plan would not begin until 2013 but given phased construction- the construction process can certainly follow soon after the A and E process. The other time line issue is the worry that new city councils may come on board and change direction- I think we all know this can happen, Roanoke has a good history of this. Does it mean we should be afraid to start any project- I certainly hope not.

The other big concern is the timing- it doesn’t look good to do such a bold project in the middle of a recession- while I could go into detail and there certainly could be a healthy debate on all these issues, this my simple answer: what better project to do during a recession- we have the funds, spread over three years, will link the Taubman, the new market building (the highest capital priority), a renewed Center in the Square to an awesome star shaped Elmwood Performing Arts venue and park and central library at the other end of downtown. We will be set to ride the recovery out of the recession, attract young people to visit and live here to enjoy our growing arts, cultural and music vibe at a lower cost of living with more quality of life potential. We cannot use this money in the operating budget and say give it to the schools- this is planned debt in a separate capital budget. There are many studies out there showing that cities that continue capital projects during a recession come out of that recession much healthier. It is obviously good for our local economy both immediately and in the short and long term to have capital/construction projects underway in a recession. Citizens also look locally for more quality of life and entertainment options during a recession. And again- what we are voting on is just the A and E design, so we can be ready to build in a year or two.

If we decide to revisit the vote, the options are to re-vote on it- table or can it, possibly re-allocate the money to non-park and rec projects, etc. Our infrastructure plans and bridge projects are doing well and even those departments have said they do not need re-allocation of funds. Storm water management is going to require a fee eventually due to federal and state legislation and should not come out of our capital or operating budget.

Council has been studying and discussing our capital improvement plan for months and discussing some projects for many many years. I had hoped we made an informed vote two weeks ago. While it never hurts to follow-up with these very real concerns and request more information, I would have hoped most of this had happened prior to the vote. I am out of town this week and will miss the vote Monday. Other council members will be gone at other meetings later in the summer as well. I have tried my best to stay in the debate and make my points, especially about the importance of moving to the next long planned phase for the amphitheatre project- the A and E design that would be consistent with specific operating budgets. I am hopeful council will have a healthy debate and go on to make a decision.

I am strongly in support of the vote we already took to move forward on the market building and amphitheatre and also support a renovated Washington park pool. If the vote changes because of the above very real concerns but answerable in my mind or due to political fears- I don’t plan on pushing the projects and will live with the votes. As I have said before- I ran for council to help bring healthy debate to issues but vowed to not continue the Roanoke habit of revisiting issues year after year without making a final decision on them. If it is voted down, I will not be the one continually bringing it back up but instead will look at other important capital projects and continue to focus on the many other issues that I have been supporting.

Many thanks for listening! What are your thoughts?

Amphitheatre Revisited

April 10, 2009

The process for Roanoke to add a commercial amphitheatre to our cultural and quality of life mix took another turn last week and I went with it. A clear goal of mine on council was to help prevent victory stadium type sagas by encouraging decisive and progressive decisions on potential capital projects. I pushed too early on this one and have learned many lessons in the process.

I have written on this blog the many reasons why the location decision for the amphitheatre was a difficult and close one in my mind and why I chose the river site by a narrow margin. Among many concerns I had were: can a “commercial” amphitheatre fit in Elmwood park, what will happen with the much needed downtown greenspace and trees, what about the library and the new social security building and perhaps most importantly what will happen with our vibrant community events and festivals that traditionally use Elmwood park.

Red Light ManagementLast week an awesome team of promoters, architects and engineers presented their assessments of both sites based on significant experience in our market and the outdoor pavilion market, on-site engineering and soil analysis, and real construction cost assessments. They used all previous studies on this topic. They chose Elmwood for multiple reasons but primary among them was the close proximity to our vibrant downtown. I have always agreed with this but had those other concerns which they answered clearly: it can fit, the design will actually improve the park’s greenspace, an outdoor concession area will improve the library, the park can be used at times outside of major events, there is a possibility of an ice skating rink within the amphitheatre for year-round usage, the design includes our star as a statement of being progressive, and they now believe these pavilions can and should work with community organizations and events and share what will be an extraordinary outdoor facility-including high school graduations and festivals.

The pavilion will include 3000 covered seats and 2000 lawn seats, professional back of house and concessions that can be used throughout the year. Yes it is very expensive but cheaper than the river- $12 million versus $21 million. The facility at the river had many assets and perhaps some day we can bring our river and our great greenway and athletic field system there more into our quality of life fold for all citizens. We need to keep showing off our river and our mountain in multiple ways!

Can we afford to start building the Elmwood Pavilion or whatever it will come to be known as- certainly not now and in this economic environment. However, I do believe that cities that come out of a recession best are the ones that have begun capital projects with ties to economic development during the recession. I do not believe all capital projects need to stopped but just slowed. I support a full market building renovation as our highest priority but I also believe we can continue moving down the road on the amphitheatre process by beginning architecture and engineering documents so that a future council at a future and appropriate time can start construction. Councils prior to this one have planned and started this process long ago and bond money will be coming to parks and recreation department for this and other projects over the next few years.

So I changed my mind- while it was hard with my initial decision, this time around it was actually very easy given the professional design and mangement team we now have in place. I hope to keep them and the process moving forward.

What are your thoughts?


The Amphitheatre is Hanging Around My Neck

June 11, 2008

While the amphitheatre has moved forward at multiple times with anywhere from 4 to 7 council votes, this one seems to be hanging around my neck! To me the amphitheatre is a micro-issue for our city but obviously has vocal contingents on both sides. We can build a new firehouse or police academy with little comment and much more expense. Perhaps ongoing debate is because this is a visible, feel good project that all will hopefully use. Perhaps it is lingering sentiment from Victory Stadium. As we all should know this Read more

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