Goodwill offering paves way for major Northwest Roanoke initiative

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Natasha Saunders speaks during the announcement at Goodwill Industries of the Valleys on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022, in Roanoke, of a $15 million Northwest hub to include a grocery store, free adult high school, a wellness center and a bank branch.



Community Arts Reach members, left to right, Cheriece Davis, Alanjha Harris and Khyree English sing “What the world need now,” during the announcement at Goodwill Industries of the Valleys on Tuesday, November 1, 2022, in Roanoke, D a $15 million hub in the Northwest to include a grocery store, free adult high school, wellness center and bank branch.



A community coalition on Tuesday announced a $15 million plan to open a grocery store, wellness center, bank branch and free adult high school in northwest Roanoke.

Goodwill Industries of the Valleys will relocate its employment center and administrative headquarters to free up its 99,000 square foot building at Melrose Avenue and 24th St. NW for the megaproject, according to current plans.

During the announcement in front of a crowd of people under a tent in the Goodwill car park, onlookers saw a sketch showing the current Goodwill facility, formerly a Kmart, divided to house the proposed store, the wellness center , bank and school under one roof. The Melrose Library, new for 2019, is already here.

Officials said the new complex – Melrose Plaza – will open by the end of 2024.

Richmond Vincent, President and CEO of Goodwill of the Valleys, thanked Roanoke City Council leadership “for your insight into what can be done in this community that can really take us back to those golden days before urban renewal.” .

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The central idea, which has lasted at least seven years, is “to restore the community through nutrition, wellness, financial literacy and education,” said city school board member Natasha Saunders.

“It’s the dream a lot of us had for Northwest Roanoke,” Saunders said.

The City of Roanoke has agreed to provide $10 million of its Pandemic Relief Grant, federal support to communities to help them recover from the COVID-19 outbreak and build resilience in the event of disasters future.

Those involved in the project, which also aims to raise $5 million from the public, say it addresses the needs of much of the city struggling with poverty, crime, high rates of preventable disease and gaps in essential services. Parts of the Northwest, including the project location, meet the definition of a food desert, a geographic area without outlets offering healthy, affordable food.

The lack of a full-service grocery store is a source of “indignity” for area residents, said resident Marion Ware.

“What this has created are residents of the North West having to deal with inequity by shopping outside of our community or putting their health at risk by shopping at convenience stores or dollar stores. . As a result, it affects how many members of this community make sense of their food intake, their choices, and in some ways their very lives,” Ware said.

Vincent described the project as “not about Goodwill, it’s about this community”.

But goodwill will play key roles. In addition to relocating its administrative support staff and service and employment operations to an as-yet-unidentified location, Goodwill will operate the store, in conjunction with LEAP, the local environmental farming project; Feed Southwest Virginia; and North Carolina food distributor MDI, according to a description of the project.

The grocery store will be called The Market on Melrose and will be around 25,000 square feet, said project manager Zenith Barrett, who is employed by Goodwill. It will employ 90 to 100 people, officials said.

Goodwill, best known for its thrift stores, employs 1,159 people and expects revenue to reach $67 million this year. It operates 41 stores and serves 35 counties and 14 cities in western, central and southern Virginia.

On the Melrose campus, it offers day care services for people with disabilities; health training and employment; training of older workers; support employment for persons with disabilities; reintegration assistance for people leaving prison; and youth services, all of which will continue in the future new location, officials said. YouthHQ, a teen center in a separate building on the Melrose campus, will remain there.

In addition to supporting the store, Goodwill also intends to operate the proposed school. First, officials will seek a change in Virginia law to allow a nonprofit organization to operate a school that would award a standard state degree and serve nearby residents rather than just residents of the city. said Mary Ann Gilmer, Chief Strategy and People Officer. officer at Goodwill. Goodwill expects Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, is taking the lead on the necessary legislation, she said.

In concept, the school, under the name The Excel Center, will issue high school diplomas and certificates such as those required to work as a pharmacy technician. Students will benefit from free on-site daycare and, eventually, discounted bus passes and fuel assistance for those with vehicles, Gilmer said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of providers are coming together to flesh out the details of the wellness center, which focuses on mind, body and healthy living through information and referrals, though not necessarily a full range. of medical services. It will not replace or compete with New Horizons Healthcare, a nonprofit health clinic a mile away, Barrett said.

New Horizons is at the planning table, along with Carilion Clinic, Bradley Free Clinic and Delta Dental.

Officials have yet to reach an agreement with a bank or credit union to offer financial services.

Musical performances, art exhibits and public events will attract locals to the future Melrose Plaza, Vincent predicted.

“We want this place to become a destination,” he said. “We want people from all over town to come here.”

When the federal government released billions of dollars under the American Rescue Plan Act, City Manager Bob Cowell and members of his team convened a citizens’ panel to decide what to do with the disaster relief money. pandemic. This panel declared one of the main needs for a grocery store in the Northwest, which residents of the community had been discussing for years.

The groundwork had been laid by the Northwest Roanoke Food Access Initiative, which involved Roanoke College, Freedom First Federal Credit Union, United Way, LEAP and residents of the Northwest and produced studies and concept plans. When financing became available, team members considered putting a store in a large vacant building on 24th Street, but deemed the price too high, Cowell said.

The focus then shifted to a warehouse area in the rear portion of the Goodwill Building, a space large enough for a grocery store, but not the health care, education, and financial services components. It appeared that the construction of new facilities, possibly behind the Goodwill building, would be necessary, according to Cowell.

After the group toured the Goodwill Center, Cowell said Vincent called him and said words to the effect of, “What if we turned the whole campus over to the idea?” said Cowell. “It was a pleasant surprise.”

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