Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WestPlace Opens in Downtown Roanoke

Exterior of the old warehouse on Salem Ave. is now WestPlace.

Skylight illuminates the atrium area.

Living room/dining room combination in one of the small apartments.

View from a fourth floor apartment.

Three movies a week in the ground floor screening room.

Bar on the fourth floor.

Bill Chapman addresses the crowd.

Story/Photos by DAN SMITH

The West Station District of Roanoke continues to grow along what had been a hopelessly blighted area of Salem Avenue, mostly because developer Bill Chapman has never been steeped in Roanoke bias, he says.

Roanokers would tell you the place is not liveable, but Chapman's developments in the area around the Virginia Museum of Transportation continue to sell out to a combination of demographics from young people to retirees.

The newest is WestPlace and the next-door Beamer 25, a restaurant carrying Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer's name. They sit beside the Re-Store of Habitat for Humanity. The restaurant will open in late spring or early fall, Chapman says, and is being put together by his group, Beamer and Steve Parry, a restaurateur. It will serve Virginia foods and craft beers and will have outdoor dining. The restaurant will seat 100.

The new apartment complex is 60,000 square feet on four floors and has 71 apartments (1 and 2 bedroom) ranging in price from $500 to $1,050 per month. The size of the apartments ranges between 420 and 1,000 square feet. Agent Melissa Morgan says there are fewer than 10 apartments remaining to be rented.

There are a variety of amenities (for which residents pay $99 a month) including a movie room with a 125 inch HD screen, a weight room, a bar and off-street parking in a city parking garage across the street. "It is safe, covered, lighted and convenient," says Chapman. "Without the parking garage, there is no apartment complex. The city did a good thing when it built that garage."

The $7.6 million investment in the complex brings to $11 million Chapman's investment in what he calls the West Station District, which includes his Fulton Lofts, opened last year.

The location next door to Habitat is perfect, says Chapman, because recycle and renew are among the concerns in rehabilitating an old building.

This kind of investment requires a lot of belief in the area, he says. "You have to be confident. This is a tremendous risk with a lot of personal liability. In a building like this, when you start working, you don't know what's behind the wall."

The downtown area, he says, is much like the old Richmond warehouse district, which locals didn't want to develop. Outsiders did, however, and created an icon of the district. Roanoke "is small, walkable and doesn't have anything out of balance," Chapman says. "The YMCA created a new center of the city and the development is surrounding that.

Occupancy Down, Rentals Stable in Roanoke

Poe & Cronk Real Estate Group in Roanoke has released the results of its 25th Annual Office Market Survey, reporting overall occupancy rates trending lower with rental rates remaining stable.

The occupancy rate in the Central Business District (CBD) decreased from 95 percent to 92 percent largely as a result of Anthem’s reduction of office space in the Franklin Plaza Building. Both the South and North Business District experienced a 2 percent decrease.

Overall occupancy rates in the valley dropped by 3 percent to 88 percent in 2011 adding an additional 130,000 SF of available office space. Roanoke’s 88 percent occupancy rate continues to outpace the 83 percent National average as reported by the National Association of Realtors.'

“Additional inventory is healthy when new construction is non-existent," says Bryan Musselwhite of Poe & Cronk. "In the past 12 months alone, we have seen a substantial increase in activity from both existing tenants looking to expand and new businesses interested in locating in the Roanoke Valley. The most recent example is Optima Health which located its regional headquarters in Downtown Roanoke at the corner of Williamson Road and Campbell Avenue."

Poe & Cronk developed Roanoke’s Original Office Market Survey in 1987 and have conducted it annually using consistent criteria and methods of reporting. This year’s survey incorporates data covering more than 100 existing nongovernmental office buildings measuring 10,000 square feet or larger.

SML Chamber Presents Awards

The 2012 Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce Annual Award Winners are: (front, from left) Roy Enslow, Bridgewater Marina and Boat Rentals; Joanna Hudzik, Haywood’s Jewelers; and Cheryl Ward, Bank of Botetourt (back row) Harold Ingram, Haywood’s Jewelers; Matt Brown, Laker Media; Andie Gibson, Laker Media; Phil Hager, Phil Hager Insurance.

The Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce recently presented the Norma Jean Teass Award for community leadership went to Cheryl Ward, Bank of Botetourt. Business of the Year is Bridgewater Marina & Boat Rental. Regional Advocate Award is Laker Media. Emerging Entrepreneur Award went to Tuscan Tavern. Enduring Enterprise Award was given to Phil Hager Insurance and the Service Excellence Award went to Haywood’s Jewelers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

300 Layoffs at ITT in Roanoke; More To Come

ITT Exelis in Roanoke County, a significant defense contractor with 1,400 employees in the Roanoke Valley, has furloughed 300 of its hourly employees.

ITT makes night vision goggles, mostly supplying the military whose needs are declining with the wind-down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Apparently, more cuts were on the way before the end of January.

Energy Summit Scheduled at Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering will be host for a Virginia Energy Summit Jan. 31, bringing together Virginia-based energy companies and related government agencies to identify industry opportunities.

Summit leader Shashank Priya (right) says the meeting will pave the way for partnerships that could spur high-paying jobs in the burgeoning energy harvesting sector. “We anticipate this meeting to play a vital role in bringing together small and large businesses towards development of energy generation and distribution technologies,” says Priya, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering.

“Energy harvesting is growing rapidly across the world, covering vital sectors of the economy such as defense, health care, infrastructure, construction, mining, and consumer electronics. Commercial transitions from laboratory to market are continuously happening, and in past few years many new companies have been formed to capture this growing industry.”

Priya said the summit will be led by Virginia Tech’s Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems, which Priya directs, and could help the commonwealth form a leadership role in development of the U.S. energy harvesting market. “Virginia is uniquely positioned to be a dominant player in this market, creating new economy and high-paying jobs here,” he says. “The research conducted at our Center for Energy Harvesting Materials and Systems, and its partnering industries, is continuously paving the way for new opportunities.” Registration deadline is Jan. 20.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Ferrum, VWCC Sign Transfer Pact

Bobby Snadel and Jennifer Braaten sign agreement.

Ferrum College President Jennifer Braaten and Virginia Western Community College President Robert Sandel signed an Agreement of Articulation today to facilitate the transfer of students from Virginia Western’s Administration of Justice Associate of Applied Science degree program to Ferrum College’s Criminal Justice Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts degree program.

The agreement, signed during a ceremony at Ferrum College, guarantees that Ferrum will accept Virginia Western students who successfully earn their AAS Administration of Justice degree and meet outlined criteria.

“As educators we all need to make student success and employment readiness a high priority and that can mean removing barriers to higher aspirations,” says Braaten. “Two-year colleges are doing a tremendous job in encouraging so many of their students to seek higher goals. Our objective at Ferrum is to smooth the transition for these transfer students. This collaboration with Virginia Western will help achieve that aim.”

The articulation agreement ensures that Ferrum College will transfer credit for all Virginia Western Administration of Justice courses completed successfully with a grade of “C” or above at the 100-200 level, excluding SDV College Skills Courses, even when the student has not completed the Associate Degree. Virginia Western students who successfully complete 56 hours with a grade of “C” or above will be admitted to Ferrum College with junior status.

Friday, January 6, 2012

RAC Xpress Cuts Ribbon for Downtown Facility

Carlion CEO Nancy Agee at ribbon-cutting.

The new workout facility is ready for use.

Dignitaries cut the ribbon.

Developer John Garland (from left), Nancy Agee and Bud Grey of Carilion.

Crowd lines up along rail at the workout facility.

Bud Grey addresses the gathered.

Carilion Clinic and Spectrum Design cut the ribbon for the new RAC Xpress at 16 West in downtown Roanoke early this afternoon, opening a workout facility and returning the historic building to a longtime use.

16 West was originally a cafeteria, but since 1980 it has most often been used as a facility for working out, designed around the schedules of business people. It has become an anchor for a group of businesses that will occupy the building.

Carilion executives, including CEO Nancy Agee and Bud Grey of RAC, were on hand with the project's developer, John Garland of Spectrum design. Garland has two partners in the venture.

In addition to RAC Xpress, the building's tenants will shortly include a grocery delivery service, a smoothie bar, a cheese shop and a chiropractor.

RAC is operating its facility and memberships are $25 a month.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tech's New Supercomputer Far Faster

Weng Fu and the new Tech supercomputer.

Virginia Tech crashed the supercomputing arena in 2003 with System X, a machine that placed the university among the world’s top computational research facilities. Now comes HokieSpeed, a new supercomputer that is up to 22 times faster and yet a quarter of the size of X, boasting a single-precision peak of 455 teraflops, or 455 trillion operations per second, and a double-precision peak of 240 teraflops, or 240 trillion operations per second.

That’s enough computational capability to place HokieSpeed at No. 96 on the most recent Top500 List, the industry-standard ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers. More intriguing is HokieSpeed’s energy efficiency, which ranks it at No. 11 in the world on the November 2011 Green500 List, a compilation of supercomputers that excel at using less energy to do more. On the Green500 List, HokieSpeed is the highest-ranked commodity supercomputer in the United States.

Located at Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center, HokieSpeed – the word “Hokie” originating from an old Virginia Tech sports cheer – contains 209 nodes, or separate computers, connected to one another in and across large metal racks, each roughly 6.5 feet tall, to create a single supercomputer that occupies half a row of racks in a vast university computer machine room. X took three times the rack space.

Each HokieSpeed node contains two 2.40-gigahertz Intel Xeon E5645 6-core central processing units, commonly called CPUs, and two NVIDIA M2050/C2050 448-core graphics processor units, or GPUs, which reside on a Supermicro 2026GT0TRF motherboard. That gives HokieSpeed more than 2,500 central processing unit cores and more than 185,000 graphics processor unit cores to compute with.

“HokieSpeed is a versatile heterogeneous supercomputing instrument, where each compute node consists of energy-efficient central-processing units and high-end graphics-processing units,” said Wu Feng, associate professor with the Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments.

“This instrument will empower faculty, students, and staff across disciplines to tackle problems previously viewed as intractable or that required heroic efforts and significant domain-specific expertise to solve.”