Vision in Heritage: Roanoke Transforms Old Rail Buildings I
merged with the Southern Railway in 1982.
The newly formed Norfolk Southern Corporation relocated its headquarters to Norfolk in 1989, but maintained a presence in Roanoke, building a new office building in downtown.  As a result, several large office buildings on the north end of downtown fell idle. As the economics of the railroad brought changes, vacant buildings could have become as much a negative for Roanoke as the loss of jobs.  Instead, a diverse employment base has allowed the city to thrive and the old railroad buildings have become essential ingredients in a continuing renaissance in downtown that began in the early 1980s with Center in the Square.  This article highlights six rail related buildings in downtown that have adapted to new roles.
Nothing says “Roanoke” like the Hotel Roanoke. This instantly recognizable Tudor landmark is as much a city icon as the Mill
Above, Eight Jefferson Place in Roanoke
As if on cue, a huge locomotive roars past as Brian Townsend, director of the city’s planning building and development, leads a tour group onto Roanoke’s new Railside Linear Walk.  The rumbling of the train challenged his vocal chords, but was effective in setting the stage for the tour.  The statewide Local Government Attorneys, Inc. conference was at the Hotel Roanoke and we arranged a walking tour of some of the downtown developments that came about through public-private partnerships.  Most of the focus was on the formerly railroad related buildings that have been adapted to new uses over the past ten years.
The merger of the Norfolk & Western Railway with the Southern Railway might have spelled doom for Roanoke.  Norfolk & Western was headquartered in Roanoke and employed as many as 5,000 in high paying jobs.  The railroad was Roanoke’s reason for being: where earlier cities formed around major rivers and seaports, Roanoke was oriented around the railroad.  The 1980s brought major changes in the local rail industry when the Norfolk & Western Railway

The author is the senior city planner in the department of planning and development for the city of Roanoke.