The sixth floor of the Shenandoah Building in downtown Roanoke, Va., was a beehive of activity during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when architects, landscape professionals, and U.S. marshals set up shop to design the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic highway that has become the most visited site in the U.S. National Park System.
Through the years, the seven-story office building, originally constructed with three floors in 1911 and expanded 10 years later, suffered the decline so many once-grand historic buildings do. Tenants vacated for newer quarters with cutting-edge amenities, and the Shenandoah went from Class A to B to C status. Vacancies followed.
But, then, the back-to-the-city movement occurring nationwide found its way to small markets like Roanoke, with its almost 100,000 residents. The Shenandoah, along with other historic commercial structures and warehouses, appealed to developers and architects who recognized the vintage building’s quality construction and materials and a void in the residential market.
Over the past several years, Roanoke’s revival has picked up momentum, with a new art museum, state-of-the-art YMCA, healthy job market, low crime rate, parks, proximity to several colleges and universities, and the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachian Trail, each 10 minutes away. More than 15 office and warehouse buildings have been transformed for residential use, with more in the pipeline.
Among the most active developers in the renewal has been Bill Chapman, whose Richmond, Va.–based Bill Chapman Enterprises recently transformed the Shenandoah into a mixed-use apartment building. Chapman considered the building a suitable match for market-rate apartments because of its good condition, terrazzo floors, 9- to 10-foot ceilings, 12-foot-high double copper cornice, and 440 windows, a feature not always present in commercial buildings. He purchased it for an undisclosed sum in 2012 and renamed it Parkway 301 to reflect its history and address.
An Unwelcome Surprise
To appeal to Parkway 301’s prime demographic of young professionals, the developer team divided the 72,000-square-foot structure into 89 loft-style apartments—83 one-bedrooms and six two-bedrooms.
As work got under way, an unexpected challenge arose. “You see what you see and X-ray, but you never know with an historic building until you work with what’s there,” says architect Burt Pinnock, principal at Baskervill in Richmond, whose firm worked on the building. Because of the building’s age, the addition of more stories, numerous tenant remodelings, and significant water damage that ate away steel columns and beams, the structure became highly compromised.
“We needed to evacuate, bring in a bridge-shoring company, study beams and ceilings and the building in its entirety, and determine how best to move forward. It was like performing surgery,” Chapman says. The additional work consumed more equity and lengthened the development time frame by at least four months, with the project needing to be completed in phases as a result.
New windows were inserted in original frames and the worn copper cornice repaired, but the exterior cladding, including terra-cotta, brick, and stucco, was retained to qualify for federal and state historic tax credits.
Inside, Pinnock saved existing materials where possible but created an overall contemporary look. Sustainability was important, leading the team to spec FSC-certified walnut cabinets, paper-resin countertops, and Energy Star appliances and fixtures. Altogether, Chapman invested $12 million, $650,000 of which was the extra equity needed for the additional work.
The building’s one-bedrooms range from 500 to 650 square feet and rent for $600 to $795 a month; the 800-square-foot two-bedrooms range from $995 to $1,095. Eighty-eight of the apartments were preleased prior to the building’s late-2013 completion. Space was also designated for a gym, storage, and retail, which is now being marketed.
But the prime amenity at Parkway 301 is the urban environment.
“People can walk and find everything,” says Pinnock. In addition, they can enjoy movie nights at Chapman’s nearby project, The Lofts at West Station.
Chapman’s two buildings, and others, have encouraged more development in Roanoke, including renovation of the downtown library and construction of a new hotel atop a parking deck. “We’ve got everything for an active, vibrant downtown,” says city manager Chris Morrill.
Success has even brought one downside many cities would envy: There are few historic buildings left to adapt in the area, and the uncertain future of historic tax credits adds significant risk. Until, or unless, the situation changes, Chapman plans to concentrate on new construction and smaller historic rehabilitations.
Building vibe, then and now: Was an office hub, lost cache and tenants, now fully occupied, with a wait list
What was saved: Masonry and terra-cotta façade, window frames, terrazzo floors, marble detailing, mosaics
Most novel feature: Double copper cornice
Biggest surprise: The demolition required
Historic federal and state tax credits: $5 million
Honors: 2013 Roanoke Valley Adaptive Reuse Award by the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation
Lesson learned: Use technology to work seamlessly from out of town. “I can do face time and walk through a building with my iPad and see what’s going on,” Parkway 301’s developer, Bill Chapman, says. “I don’t have to be there daily, though I like to be there weekly.”