The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 37

always has been," so it saw less of a spike in vacancy rates.
Additionally, "new construction is very low compared to other
markets."

A DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT COMING?

There can be important signs, Nielsen says: "One thing I am
watching for is that Roanoke as a market will undergo a significant
demographic shift over 36-60 months. If you ran a demographic
report, Roanoke as a market is an older market. But my belief is
that as baby boomers continue to retire from the work force and
when you have a market like Roanoke that has very low cost of
living and amazing quality of life: let's face it, it's beautiful.
"That's going to allow an opportunity for Gen Z or millennials
to come into the market because there will be future job
opportunities. In addition to that, for some of the older millennials
(born early 1980s), Roanoke is one of those markets-ready put
down roots-and a good majority want to come back to their
hometown because it's a great place to rear a family."
There are key indicators now: the number of restaurants
continues to increase, and new grocery stores moving into
the area are "another great thing for Roanoke." Experiential
retail (escape rooms, for example) is growing. "For every retail
storefront that closes [nationally], three are opening."

A MOVE TO CONVERSION

He sees no move toward sprawl, rather toward "infill development." It will look
like this, he says: "Higher density and it's going to be a mixed-use, or multi-use
project (example: The Bridges, family, office, retail inclusion), which Roanoke County
highlights in its 419 Vision plan. [There is the move to] convert old retail projects
and put in new uses: Carilion Children's. for example. That creates on-site daytime
employment that will filter over to the retail uses. The next step from infill will be
new construction certain areas of parking lot."
The Heironimus conversion, he says, is the "type of development we should see
more of in the future. We have a very low availability of larger tax-credit eligible
buildings remaining in downtown. Opportunity zones present potential for greater
economic development and there are additional incentives for outside investors."
Melissa Palmer of chocolatepaper has looked closely at retail for years and sees
Mast General Store as having the potential to promote a cohesive retail climate
on City Market. Since 2008, she says, there "has been incremental growth in retail,
increased tourism and a significant change in the companies downtown, an increase
in the number of employees and residents downtown. Demographics is the key.
We're getting more of the pie. A retailer like Mast General Store is another player
that can create a bigger pie for all of us. Growth and change are necessary."
Recent years have seen serious challenges to City Market retail, says Palmer:
"We've lived through numerous construction and utility upgrades [downtown]
and for the middle level businesses, it is painful. But growing pains are necessary.
We've had to call for support from all the stakeholders. Everyone has a part to play.
Downtown Roanoke Inc. has been a critical advocate."
"Roanoke demonstrates economies of scale with its retail pockets. That means
people are mobile."
The internet can be a threat, but "one of the strengths of small, local business is
the ability to form relationships with customers. We create community and that is
a game-changer in development." I

ABOVE, TOP:
John Nielsen: "Roanoke
that has very low cost of
living and amazing quality
of life: let's face it, it's
beautiful."
ABOVE, BOTTOM:
Melissa Palmer: "My
children want to move
back here."

DAN SMITH

TheRoanoker.com

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

37


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The Roanoker - September/October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - September/October 2020

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The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover3
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