Despite the downturn, Roanoke, Va., has had a building boomlet over the past two years, with a number of new projects dotting the landscape. One highlight is the new Taubman Museum of Art, by Randall Stout Architects, which opened in 2008.

Since its founding in 1852, Roanoke, originally known as Big Lick, has been the commercial hub of the Roanoke Valley thanks to the river (also named Roanoke) that bisects the town. This brought a rail line and the Norfolk & Western steam engine manufacturing facility. Today, the city retains some rail business—it’s a major hub in Norfolk Southern’s freight network—but has evolved into the retail and healthcare hub for the surrounding region.

“One of the major factors driving development is the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine” (see slideshow), explains Nicole Hall, an architectural designer at Clark Nexsen’s local office. (Clark Nexsen was not involved with the project, which was designed by AECOM.) “[It] will have a huge impact on our economy, bringing more students and higher-paying job opportunities.”

That’s important to a region working to prevent brain drain. “It’s been tough, but Roanoke has many things going for it in the quality-of-life arena,” says John Garland, president of home-grown firm Spectrum Design. Positives include ample recreational opportunities and a small-town feel. A downtown revitalization project also entices those seeking an urban experience. “Roanoke is steady and sure and will continue to grow,” Garland says.


Current population: 302,573; employment fell 3.1% from June 2008 to June 2009.


Office vacancy: 7%; average asking rate: $17/s.f.


Median home sale price, June 2009: $156,900.


  • Low costs of labor and living
  • Recreational amenities
  • Access to major metro areas


  • Lack of developable land
  • Attracting/retaining a highly educated workforce
  • Maintaining momentum through the recession


“I believe Roanoke is currently at a tipping point,” says Clark Nexsen’s Nicole Hall. “We will continue to see improvements to our downtown area and expansion of our greenway system. In addition, there are several organizations working on ways to make Roanoke a sustainable and green community.”