Ramblings: Apartments Sought for South Roanoke Office; Tech Labs in 'Research Triangle' Pitch; City Council Candidate Declares

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Brandon Office Partners LLC seeks to retrofit and build an addition onto a three-story building at 2110 Carolina Ave. SW (above) across the street from Sweet Donkey Coffee, according to city records. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Apartments floated for South Roanoke medical office

A developer is proposing to turn a South Roanoke medical office into two dozen apartments.

Brandon Office Partners LLC seeks to retrofit and build an addition onto a three-story building at 2110 Carolina Ave. SW across the street from Sweet Donkey Coffee, according to city records.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals meets today (Wednesday) to decide whether to grant permission to allow for the multi-family building in the commercial district.

“The proposed building will have approximately 23 residential units within the overall building,” which will include a small addition, wrote Ben Crew, vice president of Balzer & Associates, in an application.

Applicant John Higginbotham of Brandon Office Partners did not respond to messages.

The office building, constructed in 1980, currently carries signs for River Ridge Dermatology and Balance Wellspace Integrative Medicine.

If the redevelopment proves successful, it would add housing close to the burgeoning campus around Carilion Clinic and Virginia Tech research labs. South Roanoke’s population grew more than any other area of the city between 2010 and 2020, according to 2020 Census data.

Roanoke is short thousands of housing units, recent studies show; the proposal marks another example of adapting non-residential buildings into apartments.

Last week, we reported that three development projects seek to convert church buildings into housing. Roanoke’s Planning Commission on Monday recommended on a 4-0 vote that plans to turn part of Trinity United Methodist Church into apartments for low-income senior citizens should proceed.

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Roanoke biomedical labs part of 'research triangle' pitch

Virginia Tech biomedical research labs in Roanoke will be a part of Virginia’s efforts to build a “research triangle” meant to rival the North Carolina network.

Virginia Tech’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC could get $27 million in state funds, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a press release Monday.

University of Virginia’s Manning Institute for Biotechnology and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medicines for All Institute would also be part of the proposed $90 million consortium.

Youngkin’s office said those one-time funds, which will be included in his proposed budget released this month, “will make a significant investment to launch a biotechnology, life sciences, and pharmaceutical manufacturing network to foster collaboration among three of the Commonwealth’s major existing university research institutions.”

The funding will allow Virginia Tech to create a new patient research center, Michael Friedlander, executive director of the biomedical research institute in Roanoke, said in an interview.

It would allow the university to hire physician scientists to advance discoveries in clinical trials, with a focus on heart, brain and cancer research.

Examples of such research include a new way to treat patients undergoing radiation that limits side effects; technology that prompts behavior changes related to alcohol consumption and smoking; and an intravenous fluid that can make survival from a sudden heart attack more likely.

Friedlander said it’s too soon to say whether the initiative will prompt a new building on the institute’s Roanoke campus. He said Tech expects to host 15 research teams, which typically have anywhere from six to 10 people employees each.

While Tech and other universities have been pushing for more state support, Friedlander credited Youngkin with designating the collaboration as a “research triangle.”

“We have been talking a lot between our institutions about doing more collaborative work in biomedical, health sciences, research,” he said. “We’re all very excited about it.”

Earlier this year, the city, Tech, Carilion Clinic and others announced the state would put $15.7 million in new research labs on Jefferson Street for nascent biotech companies.

“It’s part of the evolving ecosystem in Roanoke around biomedical research and translation and commercialization,” Friedlander said. “I think it will tie in very nicely and complement what’s going on.”

Phazhon Nash announced Monday that he will run for Roanoke City Council in 2024. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE

Nash says he'll enter '24 race for Roanoke City Council

A young Roanoke community activist involved in Democratic politics says he will run for Roanoke City Council in 2024.

Phazhon Nash, 24, is the first person to signal his intent to enter the race, whose outcome will determine a majority of seats on Council. Nash made the announcement Monday on Facebook.

Terms for Council members Stephanie Moon Reynolds, Luke Priddy and Trish White-Boyd are up for election, as is the office of Mayor Sherman Lea.

None has publicly stated their intentions yet.

Nash works at Carilion Clinic as an operations consultant, which he said involves making sure the hospital system’s emergency departments are running effectively.

“We have a very diverse City Council, but the one aspect or demographic that we're missing is youthfulness,” Nash said. “I feel like I can … add a very needed perspective into a lot of the decision-making process and conversations that they’re having publicly and behind closed doors.”

Nash identified infrastructure, public safety and business development as priorities. He said city government needs to do a better job at paving streets in less affluent neighborhoods and at helping small businesses succeed.

The city’s record rates of gun violence this year also weigh heavily.

“When I talk about that youthfulness, a lot of these guys are my demographic, young Black males from Northwest, unfortunately,” said Nash, who lives in the Fairland neighborhood.

Nash helped start the Roanoke Young Democrats chapter and this month will step down from a post as vice president of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee to run for office.

He serves on the city’s Equity and Empowerment Advisory Board and has also worked for Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, as a community outreach liaison.

The Roanoke native graduated from George Mason University in 2021.

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