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Center in the Square: Reshaping Downtown Roanoke

Posted By John Forsythe, Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Updated: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Roanoke had to redevelop downtown to compensate for economic change that affected the area during the 1970’s. Roanoke’s business and civic leaders looked to culture to anchor downtown Roanoke. A collection of different cultural offerings clustered together would drive economic development for the city. Center in the Square was the anchor of these cultural offerings. Envisioned as a place that would give people a reason to want to come to Roanoke to visit or to live, Center in the Square and its beneficiary organizations welcome over 450,000 visitors from all over central and western Virginia that attend a museum, event, performance or visit the atrium annually.

The McGuire building was chosen to be Center in the Square’s home. The location is a large centrally located building next to the farmer’s market. Re-purposing the McGuire building to give cultural institutions a permanent home has proved to be an economic windfall to Roanoke. Center in the Square’s economic impact is between $18 and $20 million annually. Cultural offerings have driven economic development: apartments, restaurants and new businesses have developed around the cultural offerings at Center in the Square.  


The former McGuire building is a large building that now accommodates the Pinball Museum, Mill Mountain Theater, the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Harrison Museum of African American Culture, and the History Museum of Western Virginia, as well as office space for four other organizations. Center in the Square has something for everyone in terms of age group and interest.  Science, history, and the performing arts are always available.  


Center in the Square hosts its own events such as Yoga on the Roof and Miniatures on the Market. These events are very different from the offerings of Center’s partner institutions, but the events are designed to draw a wide audience and to raise money. Center in the Square is an entirely private venture dedicated to the public good.


The SOL focused curricula developed by the partner organizations at Center in the Square draw students from all over western Virginia. The museums serve 44% of the school districts in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Serving school children increases Roanoke’s reach and desirability.


Roanoke’s success in revitalizing downtown using culture as an economic engine has not gone unnoticed. Similar communities such as Asheville, NC and Buffalo, NY have sought advice from Center in the Square in addition to more than 50 communities Center in the Square has visited. The holistic strategy will be on display during VAM’s 2017 Annual Conference in Roanoke. Come see this dynamic partnership in action, March 18 – 21, 2017.

Read more about Center in the Square in VAM's winter 2015 edition of the Voice, in the lead article entitled Economic Impact Studies: Preservation, Revitalization, Heritage Tourism

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Tags:  adaptive reuse  Center in the Square  historic preservation  museums  Roanoke  VAM 2017 conference 

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