The Roanoker - September/October 2014 - 49
We were able to stage a series of four
prime-time 'Design-a-Thons' that
achieved community participation
on a scale never before attempted in
the United States.
CHIEF DESIGNER, DESIGN 79, APRIL 11, 1979
hortly after I was hired as Roanoke
City Manager in January, 1978 and
was given six specific charges (see
sidebar), I proposed a study of
downtown. Roanoke City Council
authorized me to solicit proposals
and hire a consultant to assist in
developing an action plan. We advertised, and then interviewed firms. I made the selection, proposed the firm
Moore Grover Harper and the American City Corporation to city council, and they approved a contract in
August of 1978. The study findings for Design '79 were
presented to me eight months later, in April of 1979.
One of the reasons I was hired was because of my
previous involvement in Charlottesville in the design,
approval and construction of the Downtown Mall, which
was dedicated and opened in July of 1976. In those days
very few people, city managers, or individuals for that
matter, had experience developing a downtown revitalization action plan.
In fact, virtually, no one in Roanoke, in the government, the business community or the community
at large, had experience creating a plan that included
restoration of existing buildings. Most plans consisted
of "redevelopment" - demolition of existing buildings,
many of which were historic buildings. In Roanoke
many business leaders supported such an approach near
the Civic Center and in Downtown East, adjacent to and
behind the library. In 1978 Downtown East was a gravel
parking lot for 1,400 cars. The Roanoke Redevelopment
and Housing Authority and well-known business leaders
advocated the continuation of demolition downtown
and in Gainsboro.
I did not. I supported historic preservation and rehaTHE
bilitation of existing buildings and infill of new buildings
and parking garages and turning a part of downtown
into an entertainment and cultural destination. I wasn't
sure what kind.
Bond money would be needed to revitalize downtown
and in those days city council required that any bond be
approved by a majority of voters. We knew that the Roanoke Civic Center had required three public votes before
it was approved. Additionally, we knew that Roanoke's
citizens were very leery of spending money downtown,
as large parts of it were blighted and appeared unsafe.
Additionally, a large parking garage had been built
on Church Ave. to serve and induce the construction of
three new office buildings, and the garage was unpopular
with many Roanokers. Finally, many citizens had just
plain given up on downtown, although, they had elected
a new seven-member city council to try one more time.
However, optimism was not a word one would use to
describe the electorate.
I set out to design a citizen participation program that
would insure involvement and generate excitement from
people throughout the region and particularly in the city.
I had selected Moore Grover Harper as our design firm.
Their chief designer was Chad Floyd. I had known Chad
professionally when I was town manager of Stratford,
Connecticut and was impressed with his architectural
skills and enthusiasm.
He brought the idea of the live interactive Designa-Thon, on commercial TV. WDBJ agreed to sponsor
a prime-time program with a bank of phones that allowed people to call in questions and for live interviews
In addition, I insisted that we have a storefront office
on Market Square, so citizens could walk in and give