On Thursday of last week, The Roanoke Times posted an article regarding the development of the Old Blacksburg Middle School (OBMS) site, detailing some of the issues developers and Town and County officials are facing.
This isn’t a new issue – it’s been a hot button topic of dissension among, well, everyone, it seems, for as long as I can remember. The long and short of it, as I understand it, is this – the County owns a prime piece of real estate in the center of Blacksburg, and though Blacksburg doesn’t own the property, they do have the right to say what gets built on it.It was announced in 2011 that Modea was going to be involved in the redevelopment of the site, and serve as an anchor to what was going to be a mixed-use site including residential, retail and office, and community parks, but that has since changed, and other potential tenants – including Rackspace – have announced they’re going elsewhere because the two sides can’t get along (I’m paraphrasing).
No one – I think – can logically argue that something doesn’t need to be done with the site. It’s 20-acres in downtown Blacksburg, it’s owned by the County (who needs much needed income), and I’m sure Town officials want it developed in order to tap into the tax and retail revenue. The bigger story out of Thursday’s article might be the fact that emails from Council demonstrate very clearly the tension that exists between the Town and everyone else. Lots of finger pointing …
Here’s what I know. Publicly calling out the County – or anyone else – to try and move things along hasn’t proven effective to this point; we’ve been doing that for years, saying “this group needs to do this”, and “that group keeps us from doing that”, and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere. What did Einstein say about insanity? No one benefits by all of this finger pointing, he said/she said stuff, so why do we keep trying it? I appreciate efforts to make sure that the site is developed in a responsible manner, but are we really being responsible, or just difficult? Are we just talking about a turf war and hard feelings? Wow, that was four questions back to back to back to back – sorry.
The Town says the County shut down communication. The County says the Town needs to move ahead. Sheesh.
It’s easy for me to sit here, basking in the warmth of my laptop screen and my slippers, acting like I’ve got the answers. I don’t. The truth is, the only thing I truly know regarding the complexity of developing a site such as this is that it’s incredibly complex. And that it takes time. That said, what are the real issues here? Office/retail/residential/public parks and gathering spaces in the middle of downtown Blacksburg … that’s what we’re talking about, it seems like. Yes, I get that we don’t want another First & Main debacle, which was bungled from nearly the beginning and is finally starting to show SOME signs of life after years of sucking wind, thanks to the efforts of business owners and some Council members. But what do we have to argue about here? The TYPE of housing? Saying that we need more senior housing on the site, and single-family housing, says to me this is a smokescreen for “We don’t want any more students downtown.” Please. I don’t want single-family on the site, personally – it’s a waste of space, in my opinion, and I’m in the business of selling single-family homes! But if housing is on that site, it seems it’s far better suited for a higher density than single-family. That doesn’t have to mean low-quality student housing, but in nine years of selling real estate I’ve never once had a senior-citizen client say to me “I’d really like to move downtown.” I’m sure someone has said it, but I’ve never heard it. Let’s put housing – and retail, and office – that is truly representative of what’s needed and desired in the Town of Blacksburg.
I propose – somewhat tongue in cheek – that we invite the Blacksburg Town Council, the Montgomery County School Board, the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, and anyone else associated with the project (including the development partners) to Hand-in-Hand Park to work this out. Maybe a change of scenery would be good … and soften their tones toward each other.
(And yes, I know this photo is of Caboose Park – I just liked it better)