Monday, June 27, 2011

Train-Bus Connection for Roanoke-Lynchburg Ready Soon

Smart Way Connector, the much-anticipated shuttle-bus service between Roanoke and Lynchburg, debuts July 19, further enhancing transportation options in southwest and central Virginia while providing an affordable option to catch Amtrak trains to Washington, D.C., and beyond.

The 16-seat Smart Way Connector shuttle will operate twice daily from Roanoke to Lynchburg, with a stop in Bedford, timed to connect with Amtrak service. The shuttle bus also connects the New River Valley with stops in Salem, Christiansburg and Blacksburg on Fridays and weekends.

On other days NRV travelers can use existing 57-seat Smart Way bus service to travel to Roanoke with the opportunity to transfer to the Smart Way Connector.

One-way fares are $4. Free parking is available at park-and-ride lots and the Roanoke Civic Center Lot C, where the shuttle departs. Schedules are synched to meet arriving and departing trains in Lynchburg. With this new service, passengers can travel from Blacksburg to Lynchburg on one bus system, opening new options for rail travel while helping to boost tourism, business and educational ties between the communities.

“The Smart Way Connector is as symbolic as it is convenient,” says Roanoke Mayor David Bowers. “First, this is an important first step in demonstrating to Amtrak the demand for passenger rail service to Roanoke. And as communities in our region work more closely together across geographic boundaries, it’s the first time people can travel via public transportation for any reason from any bus stop to, from and within the three regions.”

The service is a result of $256,000 in grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, and a $150,000 grant from the General Assembly secured by state Sen. John Edwards.

The Smart Way Connector departs from the Roanoke Civic Center Mondays-Thursdays at 5:50 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 5:45 a.m. and 7:20 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. and 6:20 p.m. It departs Virginia Tech Fridays at 4:35 a.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 6:40 a.m.

Smart Way Connector stops are:
  • Blacksburg (Virginia Tech Squires Student Center)
  • Christiansburg (Exit 118A park and ride)
  • Salem (Exit 140 park and ride)
  • Roanoke Civic Center
  • Bedford Welcome Center
  • Lynchburg Amtrak train station
For additional schedule details, call (540) 982-2222 or visit

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Warm Hearth Village Breaks Ground Again

Nikki Giovanni raises a glass in a toast.

The digging begins.
Festive crowd celebrates the groundbreaking.

Warm Hearth and WoodsEdge in Blacksburg celebrated the groundbreaking on a new 16,300 square foot center Tuesday that will promote the arts and the art of healthy aging for seniors in the New River Valley.

Delegate Jim Shuler and poet Nikki Giovanni, who are key partners in the endeavor, spoke and Giovanni offered a celebratory toast after the breaking of ground.

The Village Center was envisioned by Dr. Wybe Kroontje more than 35 years ago as a central gathering place for both residents of Warm Hearth Village and the greater community. It will feature a fitness suite complete with warm indoor saltwater pool, community gathering spaces and a welcome center for guests.

The building was designed and will be constructed using sustainable environmental practices and materials and will be a benefit for seniors of the New River Valley in terms of fitness and cultural opportunities.

Warm Hearth Village is a non-profit senior living community with a full continuum of living options ranging from an active adult campus to long-term nursing care located in Blacksburg.

Patrick Henry Opens Early, On Budget

Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill cuts the ribbon.

Photographer Don Peterson captures members of City Council.

Patrick Henry addresses the crowd.

Ed Walker faces the media.

Katherine Fralin Walker (right, Ed's wife) and Anna Larson chat.

Citing "magnificent" cooperation from the City of Roanoke, outstanding craftsmen, exceptional professional staff and a wife who served as an inspiration, Roanoke developer Ed Walker opened the updated Patrick Henry Hotel this morning before a nearly full lobby.

Walker, who began the project 19 months ago, pronounced it "seven weeks early and on budget as he and a Patrick Henry (the patriot) actor welcomed an enthusiastic crowd."

The newest version of the 1920s-era hotel will have apartments, student housing and businesses located smack in the heart of Roanoke. Much of the space has already been rented and will be occupied soon.

(Dan Smith photos, story.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tech Team Wins International Hybrid Car Challenge

Virginia Tech's Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team has won the international EcoCAR Challenge, a three-year design competition that seeks to inspire science and engineering students to build more energy-efficient “green” automobiles.

Awards were presented in Washington, D.C., after a two-week finale completion that had teams at General Motor's Milford Proving Grounds in Milford, Mich., and then the U.S. Department of Energy’s headquarters in the nation’s capital.

In all, the team of Virginia Tech College of Engineering graduate and undergraduate students won 14 first place awards at the EcoCAR: The NeXt Challenge: Best Vehicle Testing Complete Presentation, Shortest Braking Distance, Lowest Fuel Consumption, Best Dynamic Consumer Acceptability, National Instruments Most Innovative Use of Graphical System Design Award, Best Progress Reports and Fastest Autocross ‘Fun Run’ Time.

They tied for Best AVL Drive Quality, and won second place or runner up for Battery Worksmanship Award, Lowest Petroleum Energy Use, and Lowest Tailpipe Emissions.

Among individual awards, Rachel Dobroth, a graduated senior from Massanutten, who double majored in communication and interdisciplinary studies won for Best Outreach Presenter, and Kat Pecinovsky, a graduated senior in mechanical engineering from Woodbridge, won the Women in Engineering Rookie of the Year Award. During an autocross event, team member and College of Engineering graduate student Patrick Walsh posted the event’s best time, beating drivers from General Motors, a major co-sponsor of the event.

The team already previously stood out in the three-phase competition,
winning second nationally during Phase Two in 2010. A total of 16 collegiate teams from across the United States and Canada participated in the competition, with 14 teams making it to the final day of competition in Washington, D.C. Serving as faculty adviser to the Virginia Tech team is
Doug Nelson, a professor of mechanical engineering.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Contest Offers Cash To Small Business

Small Business owners who are looking to expand in our region are being given a new chance to win thousands of dollars in cash and prizes to help them. Beginning in July, business owners will submit applications to EXPAND! in order to have a chance to win a prize package that is designed to help them advertise, market and manage their growing idea or company and even stay fit in the process.

Developed by the Synergy Sessions network, the program includes a prize package already topping over $14,000. Thirty applicants will make it to the first phase of the contest where they will present their idea for expanding their business to a group of venture capitalists, business leaders, an executive coach and an advisor with the Small Business Development Center in Roanoke. These presentations will be recorded at the Blue Ridge Public Television studios and released via social media.

Five finalists will present their ideas before 200 business owners for the final round at Super Synergy slated for October 27, 2011 where the winner will be named. For more information, contact Lynda McNutt Foster at(540) 815-1300 and visit here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Taco Restaurant Perks Up Williamson Road International Corridor

Paco’s Tacos Mexican Taqueria plans an opening and ribbon-cutting at 1613 Williamson Road in Roanoke Friday, June 24 at 11 a.m.

The opening of Paco’s Tacos is yet another addition to the diversity of restaurants and retailers representing foods and products from all nations located along Roanoke’s Williamson Road International Corridor.

“This was one of the reasons we chose the location of our taqueria,” says Laura Bullington Gomez who owns the restaurant with her husband, Arturo Gomez. Paco’s Tacos is an authentic Mexican taqueria (“taco shop”), the only one in Roanoke, and features fresh food using fresh ingredients prepared to order. The menu items are not fried, but are roasted, grilled or boiled instead.

“What our customers will find at Paco’s Tacos is what you find walking into a ‘taqueria’ in Mexico”, says Gomez. "We purchase our meats and produce locally, and the bread for our tortas (Mexican subs) is baked and delivered to us from a Hispanic bakery in Winston-Salem, N.C.”

The premiere dish offered at the restaurant is Tacos Al Pastor, a traditional dish featuring marinated pork slow-roasted on a rotisserie, seasoned with pineapple and onion.Menus are printed in English and Spanish.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Arkay Packaging in Botetourt To Expand

Arkay Packaging Corporation (above) plans to expand its Botetourt County facility, creating 25 jobs and investing $7.5 million. This is the third expansion for Arkay since it located in Botetourt County’s EastPark Commerce Center in 1996.

The 25 new jobs will be in press operations, quality control, finishing and gluing. The investment includes a state-of-the-art Heidelberg XL105 printing press, as well as a new Bobst die-cutting press.

“This expansion enables Arkay to increase capacity and continue to be the leader in innovative packaging solutions,” said Mitchell Kaneff, Chairman/CEO of Arkay Packaging.

“This is the latest example of the strength of existing business in Botetourt County,” said Billy Martin, chair of the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors. “The excellent business climate and strong workforce create an environment of success for innovative, growth-oriented companies such as Arkay.”

The Virginia Department of Business Assistance’s Virginia Jobs Investment Program will provide assistance to help offset initial hiring and training expenses. These new hires will bring the number of full-time employees in Arkay’s Roanoke Region facility to 175.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Businesses Lead Cool Cities Coalition Winners

Cool Cities Coalition Winners show off their awards.^

Cox Communication, Member One Credit Union and Katie Wallace of the Wallace Agency were the business winners this morning at the annual Cool Cities Coalition Awards in Roanoke.

The coalition gives its awards to individuals and institutions in the region who have helped in one way or another to make the environment more liveable.

Cox, which has earned a substantial environmental reputation, was cited for a number of efforts, most notably reducing its carbon footprint by 20 percent in 10 years. Katie Wallace was cited for her efforts toward the "Save a Ton" campaign and a presentation design for Roanoke's Green Citizens Academy. Member One's award hinges on its new environmentally friendly, 15,900-square-foot building that is expected to cut energy costs by 25 percent.

Other winners included the Roanoke Sierra Club, Anne Marie Green of Roanoke County, Jim Vodnik of Roanoke County, Herman L. Horn Elementary School, volunteer Keith Weinwurm and Virginia Green Schools Challenges' Steve Sunderman. Roanoke Public Schools won a special achievement for winning the Green School Challenge for the entire state.

--Dan Smith, story and photo