With Roanoke City Council elections behind us, it's time to think about the future. I wanted to offer my thoughts on two controversial projects--isn't everything controversial in Roanoke?
First Rockledge. I support the restaurant and community center. Do I think this project will change the future of Roanoke. No. There are many things far more important. But the project could be an asset for Roanoke. Let me begin by saying I use the Mountain for recreational purposes. I've hiked it and I've recently started biking it. It's beautiful and frankly amazing that we have such a great place sitting right in the middle of our City, only minutes from Downtown. Recreational use of the Mountain and support of Rockledge are not mutually exclusive. I don't think Rockledge will ruin the Mountain. If done right, I believe it will enhance the Mountain. The Mountain already has a giant star, park, visitors center and Zoo on top of it. These things don't detract from Mill Mountain. They enhance it, just as Rockledge would do.
Some have characterized those that support Rockledge as anti-environment, as people who would tear down everything to build anything. My experience tells me that could not be further from the truth. Yes, there are probably some out there that would build condos on the Mountain. That's not the vision of the Young Professionals that have spearheaded this effort. The folks I encounter are environmentally conscious. They care about things like our parks, the river and greenways. And they care deeply about Mill Mountain. They don't want to destroy it. They just see an opportunity to enhance it.
Now for the amphitheater. For heavens sake, lets not turn this into another Victory Stadium. Accept the decision that has been made and move on. But as far as I can tell, a final decision has not been made, so here are my two cents. I see advantages to both the Elmwood Park and Riverside location. So let's use both.
Elmwood Park is a great place. It has a natural setting for an amphitheater and it's close to Downtown. But it's not the place to build some monstrosity. Let's work with what we've got. Invest some money to enhance the existing venue. Build a nicer, more permanent stage. Regrade the lawn--some parts are terribly uncomfortable to sit on and too steep for lawn chairs. Maybe add other amenities like bathrooms and a concession stand. If done right, Elmwood Park could be a world class, intimate venue for our festivals and small concerts.
As for the Riverside location, lets not invest $10-15 million in a flood plane. I've heard many say we can engineer it to be flood proof, but I have my doubts. Nothing is flood proof. Build a stage and raise the lawn for a concert setting--but no seating or major infrastructure. Bathrooms and concessions wouldn't hurt. And work to contain the river, but lets keep the total investment to a minimum just in case we get another one of those 100 year floods. We could use this location for larger concerts. Are we going to book the Dave Matthews Band or the Rolling Stones? Probably not. But it could be used for the occasional large gathering.
The Riverside location should be a part of a larger plan for the park. I like Mayor-Elect Bowers plans for a Veterans Memorial in the area. And it really could be the center of Roanoke's outdoor recreational opportunities. Whether it be hiking, skating, fishing, running, tubing, biking, kayaking, whatever, River's Edge is the perfect place to start from. Lets use the park to take advantage of Roanoke's greatest asset--our natural environment.