Ramblings: Hotel Roanoke Finalizes Expansion Plans; City Upgrading Street After Child Killed; Council Shakes Up Gun Violence Panel Membership

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!

The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is finalizing plans for a roughly $10-million upgrade that will enclose a back courtyard and expand a front patio. ROANOKE RAMBLER FILE PHOTO

Hotel Roanoke finalizes expansion plans

The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is finalizing plans for a roughly $10-million upgrade that will enclose a back courtyard and expand a front patio.

The project will add about 8,600 square feet of usable space, according to Brian Mann, executive director of the Hotel Roanoke Conference Center Commission.

As we were first to report in October, commissioners began exploring the possibility of expanding the hotel to keep interest high among conference clients. One idea was to add a third floor and rooftop bar to the conference center.

Commissioners eventually decided “that project was just too risky” in terms of market demand and the potential return on investment, Mann said.

The city — which, through the commission, owns the conference center half of the hotel — intends to issue as much as $14 million in bonds for the project.

Officials hope to pick a design firm before June and have renderings soon of what the expansion will look like, said Brian Wells, the hotel’s general manager. They envision the rear courtyard along Wells Avenue to be enclosed with either a glass and aluminum canopy or more traditional roof with ample windows for natural light.

“We want it to function as both a fantastic meetings area with state-of-the-art presentation equipment, but at the same time have appeal to high-end social events, such as awards banquets, weddings and other civic gatherings,” Wells said.

In addition, the hotel anticipates enclosing and expanding a front terrace. That lawn area will include new amenities, such as fire pits, bocce ball courts and cornhole.

The hotel is currently undergoing a $14-million renovation and in recent years opened the 1882 Lobby Bar next to an expanded, open-kitchen Pine Room.

Managed under the Curio Collection brand by Hilton, the Tudor-style hotel was built in 1882 by what’s now Norfolk Southern and saved from neglect in the 1990s by the city and Virginia Tech Foundation.

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City to upgrade infrastructure after fatality

Roanoke is adding stop signs and repainting crosswalks around a South Roanoke intersection after a child was struck and killed by a car last month.

Brayden Luke Dehaven, a 9-year-old student at Crystal Spring Elementary School, died March 21 after a driver hit him in the 2500 block of Avenham Avenue Southwest, according to the neighborhood association and his obituary. Police have said the driver’s impairment and vehicle’s speed were not factors.

“Even though the street design itself is not a contributing factor — it did not really relate to speed — we wanted to do something that would further enhance the safety of that corridor,” City Manager Bob Cowell said at a Council meeting Monday.

Cowell said city officials are taking the following actions, the first two of which will be completed by the end of this month:

  • Adding four-way stop signs on Avenham at 26th Street and 27th Street. 
  • Restriping crosswalks at those intersections with accompanying signage.
  • Replacing current accessible ramps.
  • Accelerating the repavement schedule for Avenham to 2025, when new crosswalks and signs will be installed.
  • Working with AEP to spur replacement of current streetlights at those intersections with brighter LEDs.

Roanoke police have also been monitoring drivers in that area recently. Cowell said in the week after Dehaven was killed, police wrote more than 20 citations to drivers who ran stop signs around Avenham.

While praising the swift moves, Council members Vivian Sanchez-Jones and Trish White-Boyd asked Cowell whether city officials have assessed other parts of the city where residents have expressed safety concerns.

Cowell said the city regularly does assessments on speeding, which can lead to law enforcement checks or infrastructure improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We'll continue to do those, but those will all still be based off of the standards that we have in place,” he said. “This was not intended to open up the idea that we were going to suddenly sort of infiltrate South Roanoke and put stop signs and all kinds of things all over the place.”

Council shakes up gun violence panel membership

Roanoke City Council has shaken up its Gun Violence Prevention Commission with new members.

Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds — once a chief antagonist of the advisory panel and its former chair, Vice Mayor Joe Cobb — will join Cobb on the commission as a non-voting Council representative.

Moon Reynolds, who once suggested in a TV interview that the panel be abolished, is running for mayor as an independent against Cobb, a Democrat.

Some Council members have scrutinized the volunteer group over some of its decision-making around grant funding, which was the subject of an internal audit. Such scrutiny led some members to resign from the commission last fall.

Member Rabbi Kathy Cohen recently took over as chair of the commission.

Council on Monday appointed Robert Lamour to fill the position Cobb held as a voting member. Council also reappointed Jared Rose to a three-year term. Rose filled a term that ended last month for Nicole Ross, who resigned in October.

Police Chief Scott Booth was also appointed as an ex-officio member in keeping with recent changes that Council adopted last month. City leaders intend to also appoint two non-voting youth members under the age of 19.

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