Since the late 1990s, Blacksburg and Montgomery County have discussed the best use of the property as the new Blacksburg Middle School was planned.
When the Blacksburg Middle School moved to its present location, options included using the building for a community arts and education center and the land for recreation, or redeveloping the space for mixed use that would help give life to the downtown area.
For a number of years after the middle school moved out, Montgomery County Public Schools leased parts of the building to different groups, including The Performing Arts Institute of Virginia, St. John Newman Catholic School, and the Literacy Volunteers — who were the last group to use the building.
The school board said that if the school system didn’t need the land, it would let go of the land once a new stadium and athletic fields were built and land was obtained for schools in Elliston and Prices Fork.
Due to budget issues, the building was not maintained and it deteriorated.
The Town Council instigated an International Design Competition for the space, that was not successful.
Nobody but school system staff were allowed in, due to safety concerns and the school board released the land to Montgomery County for sale. The county owned the land, but the town controlled the zoning and its value.
Discussion coalesced around mixed use for the best and highest use of the land.
At the time, The Roanoke Times quoted John Muffo, who was a county supervisor at the time, as suggesting office space, denser housing and open space for public use.
Krisha Chachra, then a newly elected town council member, called for office and retail space for the companies who want to move downtown, plus community recreation space.
Then vice-mayor Leslie Hager-Smith was quoted envisioning a startup campus for technology companies, workforce housing, and recreational fields and paths.
Then-mayor Ron Rordam said that whatever use was developed, town citizens expected a large civic component.
Blacksburg Town Council adopted principles for a design plan for the land. The principles included (see principles for complete list):
Adding to the economic base of the town (not to be all dedicated parkland)
Mixing use types, with vertical integration
Open space and connections to greenways
Orient more intense use towards Main St. and Clay St..
Include a civic component
Include a residential component , particularly for young professionals and retirees.
Include some ground floor retail space.
Honor historic aspects and interface with original 16 squares.
The county entered an agreement to sell the land to Modea, who planned to build a headquarters building for 200 and Fiddler’s Green Partners, who planned commercial and residential uses. The building was demolished that same year.
Meanwhile, the town and county unanimously adopted a master plan for the site that incorporated the design principles, after extensive revisions and multiple public hearings, according to the Collegiate Times.
In 2012, The Roanoke Times described a draft plan that was presented to the town, which included a hotel, two restaurants, and office space for Modea and Rackspace. An outdoor dining plaza was pictured along Main Street and three two-story parking decks along Clay. The middle of the site included a medical office building, a two-story fitness center and an apartment complex. The developer group, lead by Ohio-based Continental Real Estate Companies, included Jim Cowan of Fiddler’s Green Partners.
Town Council voiced concerns about the plan and it was not submitted for rezoning.
Fiddler’s Green Partners discussed a plan with the county, but a required transfer of land from Blacksburg was not possible at the time, so the plan was never brought to a public hearing.
The county bought out Modea’s stake in the contract.
Blacksburg Town Council reaffirmed its design principles for the site, with some revisions, including:
That the site should not be developed as a mega-block
That a grid of streets interconnect with the existing town streets, taking into account T-intersections along Clay Street with the 16 squares and topography along the back of the site.
That parking should not be all surface parking and that the town is willing to consider participating in the construction of a garage.
That the housing should be predominantly for professionals and retirees, that the town would not have the resources for low-income housing.
Also in 2015, Fiddler’s Green Partners began talks with the Blacksburg town staff, a Town Council member, and Communita Atelier, an architectural and community planning firm in Seattle with extensive experience with urban infill projects.
Montgomery County sold the land to Fiddler’s Green Partners, who established Midtown Redevelopment Partners LLC to develop the property. In monthly meetings with the town and Communita Atelier over an 8-month period, the partners developed a plan to best match the master plan. The developers worked with world-renowned architect and community planner William Kreager who has deep expertise in smart growth. Kreager's large master-planned communities have won national and international awards. Kreager helped develop a pattern book that details development guidelines and proffers, such as heights, setbacks, materials, walkways and bike path connections throughout the site providing connectivity. BSB Design, which specializes in planning and design of residential housing and communities, also joined the project and will lead design efforts for many buildings on the Midtown property.
In October, Midtown Redevelopment Partners submitted an initial plan for rezoning. “We have spent a lot of time redoing and redesigning” plans in the past two years, Stosser told the Roanoke Times. After an initial Planning Commission workshop, the developer withdrew the plan in order to answer the many questions in a later submission.
In April, the current plan was submitted for rezoning and is under consideration.
In September, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 to approve the Midtown plan.
In January, the developers filed an amended plan to show the project would include two mixed-use office buildings facing Main Street instead of one. The original plan called for two buildings that were later combined for a prospective tenant who later opted to build elsewhere.
On Feb. 12, the Blacksburg Town Council remanded the project back to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Town Council would not be approving the project within the Town’s designated 6-month period.