Category Archives: infrastructure upgrades

A Start-Up Solution: Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Ok, ok. I’m not going claim I’m Nostradamus, but I saw this coming. And if you are as smart as I think you are, you probably read the signs, too. Noke Truck Station is shutting down.

As far as I know, the truck itself will, uh, keep on truckin’. But not the restaurant outpost inside 16 West.

Now, although I’ve written elsewhere – kinda tongue in cheek, though mostly not – about food trucks as the start-ups of the restaurant world, the Station was a “restaurant” restaurant. Since I mostly try to keep this blogtrain on the start-up tracks, a discussion about a retaurant going under might seem out of place.

Honestly, it sort of is, but the issue at hand demands a cogent response. I hate to see hard-working people with good ideas fail because of the indiffernce or callousness of others, so I’d like to address the problem and offer a solution. Accordingly, to bring the discussion back in line with our Mission Statement here at Grandin Republic, I’m going to offer a “start-up solution.” 

Before we pin down a solution, though, we have to name the problem.

And this problem is named HEIRONIMUS.

As in the huge hulking vacant building with the $5.5 million asking price that sits there brooding on the corner of Jefferson and Church, scaring away old ladies and other County residents. The dead weight of it’s imposing shell is crushing the breath out of our city’s lungs. It’s fucking brick and mortar emphysema.

Which is why, despite its great facade and spectacular Art Deco atrium, 16 West has struggled to keep tenants. It is on Church, in the very block pinned down and choked by Heironimus. 

I’m not going to go into detail about the social science and the psychology of it all, because I’m not an expert and I don’t want this to be too pedantic and boring, but suffice to say there is plenty of research to back up the common sense understanding that vacant buildings make bad neighbors. The bigger and more prominent they are, the worse the problem. And again, the Heironimus building is huge and sits right on the very visible corner of Church and Jefferson, reminding everyone who drives by that Roanoke has had a troubled past. 

It is true that Roanoke has had tough times, but Heironimus unfairly burdens that block – and so important is Jefferson Street that, by implication, the entire city – with the perception that it is still laboring to climb out of its decades long slide. Thankfully, that just isn’t true. Church Street has plenty going for it; for my money, the nicest street downtown, with well-kept storefronts and tree-lined sidewalks. It’s nice. 

You’ll have to forgive outsiders for not believing the “Downtown Renaisance” extends down Church when they are confronted with the grotesque Heronimus, like Chunk finding Sloth in the basement of the Fratelli’s hideout. It’s bewildering, off-putting, gross to look at; you just want to throw a Baby Ruth at it and run away.

Only one thing is holding back redevelopment of this property into a useful and productive building. The goofballs who own it have no idea of its real value. They are asking about twice what it is really worth.

With our American reverence for private property rights, we have, as a city and community, just thrown up our hands and said, “Oh well! Nothing we can do! We’ll just have to let the stupidity and indifference of the current owners continue to retard and blight downtown. It’s a real shame, but there is no other option at all available anywhere ever in the history of all worlds and planets and universi.”

No. We can fight back. We can demand our government leaders fight this battle on our behalf; we can press them to use the power of eminent domain to take back the building.

Why hasn’t this already been done? Because it is an expensive legal process on top of the cost of the building. It would simply cost more than our city government can justify spending.

This is where the start-up solution comes in: Kickstarter.

No, we can’t raise enough to buy the building (besides which, if we were just going to buy the building we’d have to come up with the full asking price, rather than merely what the building is actually worth).

Instead, the Kickstarter campaign only needs to cover the city’s out-of-pocket expenses for the protracted legal process. We just have to pay the lawyers’ fees. If we can raise anything close to the $200,000 I’d guess it will cost, it would demonstrate the kind of grassroots support that always moves the needle for city council. They’d more or less be shamed into doing the right thing, even if they didn’t want to.

The  mere existence of such a campaign in itself might knock some sense into the current owners. It would certainly be cheaper to sell the building for its actual value than to fight the eminent domain process in court for the next 5 years.

*A note to those who might be philosophically opposed to the use of eminent domain powers: remember the building IS already for sale, just at a stupid high price; this vacancy is suppressing property values for the entire neighborhood; and by their insane obstinance, the current owners are clearly telegraphing they don’t give half a shit about this city, so stop defending them and giving them a deference they don’t deserve.*

I’m prepared to do this. Who’s with me?


Filed under infrastructure upgrades, Redevelopment

A $600K Idea

To quote the late, great Madame: I have all these things. In my head? Ideas!

Always fun to come home for a visit and just feel the energy in a city the size of DC. People walk here! To go places! And crossing the street is an exciting contact sport.

And though I haven’t been writing (on here; I’m on fire on twitter), I’ve been collecting ideas and making notes for when I get home to Noke and actually have time to write.

But since all of the Internet is just a first draft anyway, I thought I’d throw this out real quick because the thought is killing me.

Please forgive typos and general sloppiness, as I’m on my phone.

What I’m thinking about are accelerators, and how I don’t really know how they work or why it makes sense for the state to give us 600k to put one in an old medical building.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not against the idea, I just don’t understand it. Like, who works in an accelerator? I don’t mean the “seed-stage start-ups” the accelerator is supposed to help nourish, I mean the other people. Are there other people? If not, why not? What will they do? And if there aren’t trained professionals there to do start-upy things to help founders get moving, then wouldn’t that make the “accelerator” just start-up focused office space? And if there are people working there, are they government employees? If they are private workers, then they would work for…whom? Because I don’t look around Roanoke and see an existing business that teaches founders how to get a seed-stage venture off the ground, so, wouldn’t that mean that to the extent we do get a private company in there to run the thing, it would itself have to be a start-up business?

Whew! That right there is a whole passel of questions masquerading as a paragraph, ain’t it? Thing o’ beauty, powerful beauty, and fearsome. Ain’t never seen it’s like before, and God willing, I never will again.

The Internet is all a first draft, keep that in mind.

But what really got me questioning the state’s 600k investment is that I found what I believe to be a better model in New York Startup Lab. They are a permanent start-up team. Founders pay them rather than building out a team to work on an unproven idea. Once the idea is up and running, then the founder has something tangible and proven to build a team around.

Isn’t that smart? They are a mature business that never stops working on start-ups, so they know exactly what they are doing. That doesn’t mean the ideas are any good, of course, but even a great idea can’t build itself; you need a team. There aren’t many things sadder than a world changing idea that can’t find a team to support it.

Well, these guys do.

How many teams like this could we put together with $600,000?

Just a thing in my head. An idea!

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Filed under infrastructure upgrades, Start-up culture

It is called “serendipity”

On the same day Apple unveils its dope watch, Roanoke receives a 600K grant from the state for a land swap deal that will lead to the opening of an accelerator inside an old medical building in 12 to 18 months time.


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Filed under infrastructure upgrades, Start-up culture