The Real State of the City (Part III)

When we last left the State of the City address, we had covered the ongoing (yes, I said it - we have another 10-20 years at least of this nonsense) Victory Stadium debacle, and the repairs and refurbishment of the Market Area.

Today we come to the meat of the battle, the city's (mostly) pitiful attempt at attracting and retaining younger people. The Mayor leads off with the forceful statement we have all heard from everyone in the city for the past few years. "Roanoke must retain and attract young people." If the city council could only be this obvious when it comes to making decisions, we might still have some young people.

I am 31, and Roanoke attracted me because of it's quality of life, outdoors, downtown area, housing stock, and the Star. The rest is all happenstance, but thats the freedom you have when your a cook - you can go anywhere and find people who need to eat. I like the ease of commute, regardless of who thinks 581 "traffic is a New York nightmare..." I can assure you, at 3am in the middle of a snowstorm, the Belt Parkway is and always will be worse than 581 2 weeks before Christmas with Valley View having major sales. After work.

Ok, that being said - Im going to clue the city council in on a little fact. This might be a mobile culture, and a global economy - but I don't want to move. I happen to like the idea of being invested in the well being of an area (hence the blog, and the site), and perhaps setting roots. The conventional thinking looks at modern culture and says "mobile", but ask those living in this mobile world what they would love to have, and the response would usually be "roots."

Why is it hard to retain them? Well, for one thing - they are constantly having to compete with the Boomer generation (the members of the City Council will not get this, as they are the Boomer generation) for jobs, homes, and just about everything else. Back in the 1940's, a man worked as long as the man had to - and when it was possible, he moved on to retirement - spent time with the family and enjoyed the rest of his life. Now, man works till man gets pension, then moves onto 2nd career, and possibly 3rd. Companies complain about not being able to find young adults with sufficient experience, yet do nothing about getting the youth that experience. And the individuals whose jobs ARE that experience are not leaving them anytime soon.

Face facts; Party in the Park is not for the young. Neither are First Fridays. Most restaurants downtown cater to an older clientele with more available cash. Perfectly good buildings are being converted into condo and loft space outside the affordability of most hard-working young adults. The most prime piece of real estate downtown (Heironimous Building) sits empty. The other most important building downtown (Patrick Henry Hotel) is slated to become senior housing. We hear endlessly about how this development is going to sell for $300k and up, and those condo's are selling for 400k. Yet the market has yet to bring wages up to the levels where that would be even remotely accessable.

Partly, the blame for the low wages lies in those who accept them. And in those who offer them. But the solution to the problem does not lie in models, programs, or events.. it lies within the city itself.

I understand why the city wants the retirement money. It's nearly free cash, and a good portion of the retirement population will sell a home someplace else and move here, spending only 1/3rd of what they made on the sale of the old home. Services and support for an older population are fairly easy. Keep the roads clear, the sidewalks passable, the EMS fully staffed, and a great selection of doctors on hand. Whereas the younger people require a bit more.

As it stands, the city is generally not bothered by any clubs. With the exception of CB&Co., the city has very few nightspots for young adults. It also does not attract the attention of national acts, which keeps it from having to spend money to upgrade the Civic Center, or similar things. With national, larger and more popular acts - parking, roads surrounding, services, and the physical structure of the CC would need to be upgraded.

What the city fails to realize is that the influx of people for such concerts (and other things) would pay for all the upgrades. If you provide it, they will come - and spend. The tax revenue on hotel rooms alone would make it worthwhile.

Beyond that, the Roanoke Connect Job Database is something that we here at Forgotten-Roanoke.com have personally signed on for. It's a good idea that could yield good results. The "Roanoke Wants U." program is cute, however I would feel better about it if the city did not go out and recruit these students, rather the students wanted to come here, signed up and were given a tour of Roanoke. If the city attracts 2 of the 50 students as residents, then I guess it's not the worst idea.

And as always Job Fairs are a good idea, and why not market the city during one. But actively calling it a Quality of Life Fair sounds rather desperate. And no one wants to live in a city thats is needy.

Why is the city needy? Well, someone has to fill the service jobs it will take to keep the city moving with all these retirees here. Performing service-oriented jobs, basically taking care of everyone and everything - with no qualms about being stepped on and passed over in favor of the "Disposeable Income" crowd. Which will continue to happen as long as the young people allow it.

I have alot to say about the way the city treats the younger population here in Roanoke, but that is going to have to wait... I have to go to work.. from which I will gladly retire.

Out with the bad air, in with the good..

Very sorry to all I told yesterday that today was going to be much cooler. It seems like a cap has slid over the valley causing the heat to be trapped a little longer. Although that was one of the more interesting rainstorms I've seen yesterday downtown. There was thunder in SE, but not a sign of rain. No rain or thunder in South Roanoke, and reports from the airport indicate 2-3 storms rolled through.

I wish I had my camera moment: Driving up Franklin Rd. the other evening, rounding the bend by Kabuki heading towards downtown, that nice cool shady bend. Wet. Completely and utterly wet.

Everything all the way to the river (and possibly beyond, I don't quite recall) was wet. A mini-storm apparently. But so mini that I never even saw a hint of it from just across 220.

Fear not folks - the rain is on its way, and barring another last minute revision - tomorrow promises to be nearly 10 degrees cooler than today.

Perhaps the subtle hostility that is residing in the valley will vanish as well.

I've heard more car horns beeping in these past 3 days than I have in my whole time down here.

It's almost like New York again... now cut it out!


6:01am 8/3/06

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Let it be known to all and sundry that at 6:01am today, the temperature was 78 degrees.

Also let it be known that I was not happy about that, and generally wanted nothing to do with it.

That is all..


The real State of the City (Part 2)

Picking up the drumbeat where we left off last time, the Mayor is now shifting his focus from extolling the virtues of a Victory Stadium-Free Roanoke and telling us how lucky we all are to be hosting (as a region) the US Challenge. And as wonderful and lucky as we all are to be gifted with such things, there are still a few key matters which hover above us.

The Market District plan, part 18a.

For the first time since Design '79, the public was directly involved in the process of brainstorming ideas for perking up the Downtown Market District. We were made aware of some immediate changes, the most important of them being the replacement of the vendor canopies.

Another "coming soon" item - a set of stairs leading from near the DogMouth Fountain on Salem and Market up to the Summertime Blast Furnace that is the pedestrian bridge. At least thats the best interpretation I can come up with. The way it actually reads is "Creation of a stepped plaza to draw people from the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks into the city market."

I guess the escalators are too vague for the average visitor. Of course, I am not totally against this. I actually rather like the idea of having sweeping, dramatic steps against which the local youth (disenfranchised and bored) can sit, skateboard, and generally hang out. The panhandlers downtown would be given immediate access to those travellers who come across from the Hotel Roanoke.

No, but seriously - I think its cool. If done right, that is. My only question would be, where will the Wintery, Non-Denominational - yet Festive Tree go? Near as I can figure, the stairs will have to eliminate a good portion of the grass there.

Improving the City Market building can be done simply. Stop attempting to charge $2,000 a month in rent for 400 sq. feet of space, and end the current policy of "non-competition." Allow any non-franchise business access, offer the current and future businesses the option of being a "daytime only" establishment and taking a space inside the building, or operating days/nights/weekends on the outside rim of the building.

Yes, Williamson Rd. should be developed. Controlled, but developed. Once the new Art Museum and Floating Battleship (you didn't think it had a foundation did you?) is finished, I say the City should ask the Art Museum to vacate the warehouse at Norfolk and 3rd. That would free up a nice sized chunk of retail space, along with parking. And considering how nice a deal the AMWV got from the City, I'd say it would only be fair.

The Market Garage as a residence or hotel? You have got to be kidding me. With the quantifiable properties in direct access to the Market, and you want to offer a garage? Why not the parking lot behind WSLS while your at it? And those abandoned buildings on Salem down past.. no, scratch that last one. It's being done as we speak.

If this is indicitave of the business sense of the City, then it is a wonder we managed to come this far.

The first thing that should be done is a full and total inventory of every building within 8 blocks of the Market. Recording address, physical proximities (market.library.hospital), and condition. From that inventory, a database of the Marketable Market district, and the Unmarketable Market. Then the work begins.. how to make the Unmarketable, marketable. THAT is thinking strategically.

Without question, basic repairs AND upgrades should be made to the market stalls - and should have been made before.

I do wonder how the City Council and Mayor define the Market Area. It would seem a limited slice of the whole, from 2nd to 581, Shenandoah to Elm. Live, work, and play - in an area smaller than New York's Central Park. Unless you are looking to build more high rises, it's unlikely.

And stop pointing to the Art Museum as a "sign of great things to come." There are still no assurances that the construction will be completed, and with the sudden "no comment" policy to local businesses directly impacted by the construction - the plot seems deeper than the gravel and reinforced concrete piers it will be built upon.

Full disclosure - I happen by the construction site twice a day in my travels, and see many things - and hear even more. Insect infestations, water damage, and more - all a result of the construction.

I congradulate VACO on the expansion of it's business, and welcome the new retail space which will be added to Market St. Replacing a poorly-placed parking lot (with one interesting painted advertisement) with more jobs, more opportunities, and more commerce.

I have a choice here, stop now - and deal with the Drive for Youth movement the city is proposing, or try and jam it into this post.

Reading over the Mayor's comments - I feel this part needs it's own chapter. This is where the battles must be fought.

Refresh yourself with the subject matter here. And prepare to see the battlefield.


Roanoke firefighter files grievance against city over job transfer

(article here)

Remember what I said months ago about the employees of the city working in a state of fear of retailiation from the Head of Human Resources (aka the city manager)? This proves my point exactly.

To some it may look like errant whining, but think about this - when you single out the head of a group (and it was easy to do, it's as simple as running a whois search on the domain name) and take action against them, your attempting to send a message.

I have a feeling this time, it might just backfire in the city's face.

Hi there.

I run a website, and a blog.

I have said unkind things about the city government in the course of the blog.

It's called "an opinion."

And should you attempt to retailiate, you better do it honestly. Come to me with facts, and let's debate. Take action, and face the darker side of the internet.

It's every man, woman, and childs god given right to bitch and moan about things they don't like. And nobody can take that away.



Launch the Pod!

Ed Hall, City Council, heat.. Boy, this weather sure has me in a mood.

Someone is out to get me...

And I think they work for the Roanoke Times.

See, this weekend they went right for the throat. Printed things they KNEW would get my blood boiling, and would raise the level on my blog here.

Well no such luck.

Sure I read the Ed Hall peice (Take a chance, make Roanoke cool.)and I too sat bewildered as one of the top Commercial Real Estate leaders in Roanoke spells out his dream of peace, love, and puppies in the Art Museum (all visible from the invisible Mill Mountain Inn (which cannot be built the way Ed lays out - due to a large LANDMARK star, 2 overlooks, and a zoo being in the way, not to mention the personal property of a taxpaying homeowner)).

But no, thats a softball for me. I like a challenge.

Then todays business section, "'Retirement jobs' are in demand by boomers". Oh the fun I could have with that one. You know, like perhaps the problem with the lack of "workers with experience" is that the Boomers will not step aside (as was done for them by the preceeding generations) and retire giving them the opportunity for advancement and learning those skills? It smacks of systematic lazyness, and a soft comfort knowing you have employees you have counted on for years still on the payroll. Rather than take the risk and allow some new brains on the floor to do the job, they would rather keep what they know.

Employer loyalty has been a subject hotly discussed among my co-workers and I lately. All of us have varying experience in the food industry, some have worked in it longer than others and some have worked other fields (as I did with my time in retail) - but the one common thread is the lack of loyalty in the workplace. There is no consideration to retaining the best and brightest, no willingness to compete to keep the competent ones. If I were to recieve an offer tomorrow for a job that pays more doing the same thing I am doing now (with the competition, for arguements sake) - I know with 100% faith that my current employer would wish me good luck, so long...

There is no reward for hard work, no reason to strive to keep yourself and the company doing the best it can. Everyone is expendable, whereas in the past it was 'Everyone is expendable, some at a higher cost.'

So lets see, pension - social security - possibly investments, and you still want to work? Then where is my opportunity? If you suck up 5% of the entire payroll budget for the department, and the other 95% is taken up (in varying chunks) by the rest of the staff - where is my opportunity?

And a 2% a year raise on a minimal hourly salary (we will say $9) is hardly worth the effort. At that rate, it would take me 5 years to go up a full dollar in pay. I've heard it said that the 2% raise is there to encourage people to move up, to advance. I've personally been told that, only to find out that the 2% is across the board, for everyone short of the manager. Who has been there 10 years, and shows no sign - nor has any plans, of going anywhere.

Truth of it is, there seems to be very little reward for experience and effort these days. And with the Boomers sticking around the workforce even longer, the situation will not improve unless the younger crowd strikes out on it's own and goes into head to head competition with the existing businesses.

But thats a topic for another time. The focus now is on getting the page ready for tomorrow nights roll out, the podcast seamless as a vintage radio show, and the HQ packed up and ready to roll.

Oh, and in my spare time - continuing the deconstruction of Mr. Mayor's State of the City Speech.

I hope your all taking notes, you will be tested.