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Vintage Vinton renovates, revamps

Vintage Vinton renovates, revamps


Downtown Vinton and beyond. Video by Heather Rousseau

A rundown dairy barn could be the next historic structure revamped in vintage Vinton, where small-town charm and a few incentives are scoring big-time investments, revitalizing the downtown district and neighborhoods beyond.

Old buildings of historic importance are being renovated for new uses, and storefronts empty for years earlier are again occupied downtown. Five buildings remodeled or in-progress since 2015 represent $21.7 million of investment and at least 130 new jobs created, town documents show.

Momentum is apparent through any number of private, public or combined-effort construction projects, culminating this July in a $12 million hotel deal sure to bolster the town’s skyline. Today’s momentum traces back to one Roanoke County project in the middle of downtown, said Town Manager Pete Peters.

“The county built a library there, and then we used that as leverage,” Peters said during a phone call. “The library itself was a great addition, but we needed to do other things.”

Completion of the brand new Vinton Library in 2015 enabled the town to successfully apply for grant funding, Peters said. The town used that money to beautify its main street with new street lamps, benches, bike racks and trash cans, as well as a remodeled farmers market.

“We did a facade improvement program, where we would incentivize owners to freshen up their storefronts, and we reimbursed portions of those improvements,” Peters said. “It was all trying to freshen up our downtown, make it more vibrant and more welcoming.”

At the time of the Vinton Library’s groundbreaking in 2013, county leaders called it the beginning of revitalizing downtown. In years to follow, developers partnered with the town to renovate historic structures.

“We had the elementary school, Roland Cook, which was shut down for over 10 years, basically in our downtown,” Peters said. “That was converted into apartments… it was an easy target, because Roanoke County owned that building.”

And old William Byrd High School soon followed, converted into Billy Byrd Apartments, Peters said. Town Council listened to residents’ requests for more sit-down dining, recruiting Macado’s to fill the former library, and other restaurants since found their way into town.

Historic Gish Mill, pictured on the Vinton town seal but vacant for years, is under contract to be remodeled and will reopen as a mixed-use restaurant and living space in 2022, according to plans. The former Vinton Motors building, long a cornerstone of the downtown district, is now open as Vinyard Station, housing a pizza parlor that opened early 2021, and soon a coffee shop.

“All these projects we’ve incentivized,” Peters said, specifying tax write-offs, grant applications and utility fee waivers as examples. “They’re not huge dollar amounts, but they’re significant enough that it makes the project more feasible and more attractive to develop.”

Open to expansion

Dale Wilkinson is one of the private developers fueling revitalization in Vinton. Since 2015, he spearheaded redevelopment at Vinyard Station and Roland E. Cook Lofts, as well as renovating River Park Shopping Center, where a Big Lots just opened.

“It wasn’t long ago when people in Vinton had to shop in Roanoke. They had to drive somewhere to get what they want,” Wilkinson said. “Now, they’re seeing outcomes where they can support local businesses and keep the money in their community. It’s a really good thing.”

Wilkinson said town council reflects the people’s desire to see a bettered community. He credited Peters, hired in 2015 and named town manager in 2021, as a guiding force for the change, willing to jump through hoops to make things happen.

“It’s really refreshing to have people that aren’t anti-development, but are open to new ideas and want to see their community bettered,” Wilkinson said. “It’s really the way people in Vinton think. They really are very open-minded.”

Rosie’s Gaming Emporium is expanding its floorplan and increasing its parking deck to three stories, completed by end of year. Cardinal Glass recently finished an $8 million expansion at its Vinton facility.

Dogwood Restaurant and FarmBurguesa have leased extra town property to provide outdoor dining, and Bank of Botetourt opened a branch downtown in August.

And thanks to additional revenue flowing into the town coffers through its bolstered businesses, Vinton will within the next two years upgrade its 11 stoplights, so traffic can flow through the town with fewer interruptions, Peters said.

“The traffic is picked up, so we need to invest in our infrastructure,” Peters said. “That infrastructure improvement wouldn’t be realized without the additional revenue from the restaurants and the businesses.”

Also, council in March approved more than $4 million of water and sewer updates.

Award-worthy efforts

Revitalization efforts in Vinton were validated this year by two different awards from civic organizations, said Jill Loope, director of Economic Development for Roanoke County.

The Virginia Association of Counties awarded Roanoke County a 2021 achievement award for revitalization in Vinton’s downtown district. And the International Economic Development Council granted Roanoke County an award for public-private partnerships in Vinton’s downtown revitalization.

“The community sees one project at a time, and they see the results of those projects,” Loope said. “But when you put it all together, you really begin to realize the impact of these projects collectively.”

Redevelopment projects are difficult, because they require coordination between private developers and local governments, and it takes longer from start to finish because there are grants to apply for, she said.

“It’s a partnership that works,” Loope said. “That’s true economic development, when you repurpose underutilized properties, redevelop them. But it’s not easy.”

And there are plenty more projects pinpointed for potential redevelopment in revamping Vinton.

The old dairy barn

Continuing the refurbishment of historic structures, Loope said she wants to see what uses might be milked out of an old dairy barn on Cardinal Park Drive, near the Vinton Business Center.

“We want to turn it into some sort of retail-commercial use,” Loope said. “Maybe a brewpub. That’s just one of the potential uses. Don’t get too stirred up over that yet.”

The old barn, built in 1938, is two stories tall and about 6,600 total square feet. It is in structurally fair condition, according to county documents.

There’s plenty to fix up on property, as always with worn-down buildings, but that’s part of what gives a successful redevelopment project its character and charm, Peters said. There’s personality, sweat and soul put into it.

“It takes a lot of effort from the staff, and a lot of grit from the developer. You have to really go out and work hard to get the pieces together to make it work financially,” Peters said. “The barn is going to be another example of that. Gish Mill is the most recent example.”

The dairy barn is just one property on a running list identified for redevelopment. Each project takes precious time, but the end result so far has proved worthwhile for revamped Vinton.

“It really is about patience and being persistent, and knocking on doors multiple times in some cases before you get an answer,” Peters said. “It’s definitely a long game. It’s not a small effort for short-term gain. It’s a lot of elbow grease, and a lot of patience, too.”

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