Sunday, May 08, 2011
A Market transformation
- Our week as a Nielsen family
- Stop throwing money out the windows
- Point/Counterpoint gets a makeover
- All too quick to judge
From the RoundTable blog
Prepare to be dazzled when the City Market Building opens later this summer. Light pours in, dancing on the highly polished hemlock floors of the mezzanine and bouncing along the white glazed bricks of the first-floor stalls below.
Upstairs, in the old gymnasium that's been long cut off from the public, floor-to-ceiling windows illuminate the ballroom. The room known now as Charter Hall, a nod to Roanoke and the market's genesis, sweeps across the expanse, issuing an invitation: Come, plan your event. Eight parties already accepted, reserving their dates; others are lining up.
Space throughout the Market Building flows from one purpose to another, opening the once-choppy floor plan onto its breadth. The design by architects Cunningham and Quill captures the charm of the building so beloved by Roanokers, stays true to the 1922 building's integrity (important to capture historic tax credits), yet employs each square foot of space for modern-day use.
On the first floor, four adjoining vendor spaces command the center. The interior wall is ringed with eight kitchen spaces. All are constructed out of white bricks reminiscent of the building's meat market days. Adding contrast, exposed red bricks march up the interior walls, giving way to painted ones above -- the paint a concession to historic accuracy.
Along the outside perimeter, retail spaces, each with its own doorway, line the Market and Wall street sides. Altogether, the building can accommodate 30 vendors; most likely spaces will be adapted, depending on the desire of tenants, to host fewer vendors by leasing them more than one space.
Jim Deyerle with Hall Associates is charged with managing the building and lining up tenants. He points out how each of the eight kitchen spaces was designed so that a wall could be punched out, opening into a retail space that can be easily converted into a dining room. That space then flows onto sidewalk dining. Also, retail space can be combined to accommodate a larger store.
Deyerle and his Hall Associates colleague Roger Elkin graciously spent their Wednesday morning taking me on a tour of the building. (You can take a pictorial tour at the City Market Building's Facebook page.) Much of the major work is coming to a close; soon, outfitting for specific vendors will begin.
Elkin pointed out the common dining alcoves on either side that are flanked with public restrooms. Even during the Market Building's off hours, these areas will be open to the public -- a welcome, friendly addition to downtown. With on-site management and daily custodial service, they aren't concerned about the restrooms taking on the trashy, off-putting look, smell and feel of the ones previously found in the Market Building.
On the Salem Avenue side, Brent Hawes of Hawes Joinery Inc. fashioned three doors that look like other windows and doors found on the building. Their simple appearance disguises the complexity of their mission: to provide cover and ease of access to dumpsters.
While the previous dingy interior now appeals to the eye and will make shopping and dining a pleasure, the question remains: Will the building attract enough vendors?
To this, Elkin and Deyerle would emphatically answer yes. They've had 100 inquiries; 55 requested applications, and 22, so far, successfully completed the application process. Four previous vendors plan to come back.
"My expectation is that the building will open with three, four or fives spaces not filled," Elkin said. "We're not going to wait until it's 100 percent full."
By the soft opening in mid-August, all eight kitchens and four vendor spots inside are expected to be filled. Retail, which has been rather soft since the recession, might take a little longer to attract. But Elkin thinks once the building is open, there will be an increased demand from those wanting to be part of it.
All of the applicants are considered "local," in the sense that they live within a 60-mile radius of Roanoke. Also, the foundation is adhering to the city's former practice of barring chains, but it is breaking with the tradition of noncompeting menus.
The goal is to bring in stable tenants. While some prospects are experienced, others are being helped to develop business plans and learn the skills needed to succeed.
The building will also have increased hours, requiring vendors to be open evenings and weekends, unlike previous hours that limited service to the lunch crowd.
Elkin said the extended hours are being welcomed, as it affords vendors more time in which to earn income.
Money is also of prime consideration for Roanoke and its taxpayers, who are spending $6.4 million to renovate a building that has required substantial sums to subsidize the day-to-day operations.
The days of subsidies are growing short. Elkin and Deyerle said the plan is to break even within two years -- and that includes funds set aside for upkeep.
In looking at the potential unearthed during the project, it's easy to believe them.
Rife is a member of The Roanoke Times editorial board.