Ed Walker singlehandedly saves Roanoke, VA

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In less than a decade, Ed Walker has renovated more than a dozen historic buildings. CREDIT: Travis Dove for The New York Times.
In less than a decade, Ed Walker has renovated more than a dozen historic buildings. CREDIT: Travis Dove for The New York Times.

Well, in fairness Roanoke didn’t need saving, but it’s definitely improved by its association with Ed Walker. The buildings he has restored are beautifully-preserved showpieces: an amalgam of the sturdy, classic architecture of the post-War South and modern green building techniques. The spaces are versatile, interesting, clean, bright; at times stunning in their reinterpretation of the original structure.

Not only is he the landlord for Roanoke’s amazing Kirk Avenue Music Hall, it’s worth noting that Ed is the main financial backer for my friend Tom Kennedy’s cool radio project there (101.5FM The Music Place). An excerpt from the article:

In Roanoke, it started in 2002, when Mr. Walker began redeveloping Kirk Avenue. His first major residential renovation opened downtown in 2006, with million-dollar condominiums.

Old-guard Roanokers were quickly convinced that downtown was livable when Mr. Walker sold one of the first to Warner Dalhouse, a retired bank chairman, and his wife, Barbara, who use it as a Southern pied-à-terre. At 4,800 square feet, it is larger than their lake house nearby. “We wanted it to look like a New York loft, and it does,” Mr. Dalhouse said.

Mr. Walker’s company converted an old cotton mill and a department store into apartments, some at the low end of market rates and some at the top. The next units will be in a former ice house on the Roanoke River, where the city’s first waterfront restaurant will open.

Last year, after a $20 million renovation, the company reopened the Patrick Henry, once one of Roanoke’s grandest hotels; its disrepair had taken a toll on civic pride. Now it once again has an elegant lobby, complete with a bar. Some of its 132 apartments are leased by a nearby nursing school for its students.

The building also houses the Music Place, an FM radio station that Mr. Walker bought last year just before it was forced to change formats. With its mix of indie, country and folk — and thrice-weekly interviews with community leaders — it fit with his notion to give Roanoke the feel of, as he grinningly puts it, a funky college town.

It’s great to see visionaries like Ed Walker get his due in the press, and in the public consciousness. What he has done –indeed is still doing– in Roanoke is possible anywhere.

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