Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The reasons just don't add up!!

Valley Forward has put forth the following reasons on their website as to why they think building a hotel and parking structure in a city park is a good idea. I'm sure I'm not alone in my thoughts, which are in bold type below each reason they list.

Please write to every Roanoke City Council member with your opinion on this issue!!

1. Ability for everyone to use Mill Mountain. The mountain is chronically underused. If you are not in the relatively small group of hikers, bikers, picnickers or zoo patrons, the mountain is effectively off limits. One of the region’s most amazing places currently provides little reason to visit, especially during cold, windy or rainy days.
Mill Mountain is not off limits to anyone! If you are too lazy to get out and walk or hike or bike, why infringe on the places that those of us who do enjoy those things just to appease those who do not? Can anyone explain to me how driving to the top of a mountain in your car to the Mill Mountain Star overlook is "off limits"?

2. Historic Precedent- Mill Mountain was once home to the Rockledge Inn, which opened in 1892 with guest rooms and dining. Later Rockledge was home to the Mill Mountain Theater, until its untimely demise by fire. Generations of Roanokers enjoyed the Mountain and created lifelong memories of the theater, the inn, and attending social functions there.
...and now all of those things are within everyone's reach in the downtown area. Before all of these things were built on Mill Mountain in 1892, there was NOTHING! How about that historic precedent? Are you saying that no good memories have been made atop Mill Mountain after the Rockledge Inn was destroyed?

3. It Would Strengthen and Tie Together Explore Park and the Mill Mountain Zoo. The project would enhance the attendance and financial prospects of the Mill Mountain Zoo and Explore Park with increased awareness, cross marketing, and “packaging” of these destinations to increase multi-day visits. One can envision a circular shuttle with hourly service to Explore Park and the City Market. Inn guests, including Parkway travelers, would be directly exposed to the Zoo, which can only benefit the zoo’s attendance and future.
Does Valley Forward have any idea what the plan is for Explore Park? NO. No one does. So how can you say that "it would strengthen and tie together Explore Park and the Mill Mountain Zoo" when you have no idea what will be going on out there?

4. Absolutely Unique Niche. By providing a moderate number of rooms and offering dining and meeting facilities with the region’s most remarkable views, the RMM would be a stunningly unforgettable destination. Its uniqueness would not compete with Hotel Roanoke or other area assets, but would, instead, enlarge the area’s total tourism offerings and help create critical mass for visitor offerings and multi-day stays.
This is perhaps the reason that is most off-base of any listed here. Ask yourself if you've ever gone on vacation just to stay in a particular hotel. Doubtful. You go somewhere for the attractions, not just the accommodations. Isn't an 80 foot tall neon star fairly unique?

5. Mountaintop Attractions are Incredibly Powerful - The value of such a community asset is incalculable. Pittsburgh, PA, Chattanooga, TN, and other cities have successfully capitalized on their mountainous surroundings to incorporate their beautiful views into valuable regional destinations for residents and visitors alike.
Pittsburgh's mountains are part of the city, and Lookout Mountain in TN is privately owned and they are not in a city park.

6. Community Showcase. It would provide an unforgettably striking showcase of the Roanoke Valley’s beauty and desirability to visitors and offer a stunning selling feature that could become regionally and nationally known. Business and industrial visitors considering investment or relocations in the Roanoke Valley would leave with a powerful impression of the city’s progressiveness and beauty.
Please explain to me how building a hotel in a city park is progressive. And besides, Mill Mountain is already a striking showcase, complete with solitude.

7. Uniqueness & Proximity - As one of the only cities that has a mountain within the city limits and is central to our population, Mill Mountain is uniquely positioned to become an exceptional community asset. With a mere 5 – 10 minute drive from the heart of downtown, the mountain could be enjoyed for pleasurable dining and easily used for business, social, charitable and civic purposes.
This isn't reason number 7, this is reason number 4 - again.

8. It is feasible and practical. There is historic precedence, the city owns the property, there is vehicular and trail access, it ties in the Parkway, and it could be constructed in an environmentally sensitive and compatible manner.
Once again, this is a city park! This is not some undeveloped lot within the city limits. It is already being used for the purpose it was designed for - A PARK! By the way, where will all the sewage go?

9. Blue Ridge Parkway Tie-in. The Roanoke Valley might as well be 300 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. While we receive a few tourism morsels (relative to, say, Asheville, N.C.), we are realizing embarrassingly little from our closeness to Parkway travelers. The MML offers a way to tap the enormous, perpetually unrealized economic benefits and potential of the Blue Ridge Parkway and its visitors’ tourism dollars.
I completely agree that Roanoke should do more to draw people off of the BRP, but I have a very hard time believing a single small 60 room hotel will be a huge draw.

10. Economic Dynamo. Done properly, it would become a tremendous economic catalyst. With heavy cross-promotion, educated community volunteers staffing an information/visitors area and directing visitors to area attractions, reservation lines to area restaurants, and attractions, and a shuttle running a route to Explore and the City Market, it would generate and enhance economic activity from the Roanoke Valley, the Blue Ridge Parkway and beyond.
The first step in any successful business is a plan and market research. Anyone could make the claim that a business would draw people, but market research is the only way to ensure this. Where is the market research data that supports these claims and why hasn't Roanoke City Council ask to see this data? Keep in mind, the same exact things were being said about Explore Park before it became a reality - and eventually fell flat on it's face.

11. It’s Tangible and Satisfies the Basics- Dining and Lodging- While Explore Park is well-intentioned and the zoo a quaint community niche, neither offers a compelling reason to exit the Parkway. Travelers/tourists would be offered something easily understood and desired- unique lodging and an unforgettable dining experience. Once at the Lodge, the mesmerizing views and visitor center would provide an irresistible showcase of the valley and entice these visitors to enjoy the valley and spend time and money here.
Doesn't Brugh Tavern at Explore park offer dining? The trouble with Explore Park is that it isn't close to anything else. You can't stroll through city streets and window shop. You can't do very much people-watching since no one is there. I believe a lodge on Mill Mountain would also lack the something-for-everyone environment people seek when they are tourists.

12. Regional Destination. It would offer a dramatic, well-known destination for valley visitors and tourists. One can imagine people in faraway cities and Parkway enthusiasts journeying to Roanoke to discover and enjoy the amazing mountaintop lodge that they’ve seen on the Today Show or read about in Southern Living.

13. Community Acclaim & Pride. As a stunning showplace atop our most famous landmark, the Mill Mountain Lodge would become a source of great community pride and become well known, far beyond Roanoke, as a “must see” destination.
I am proud of Roanoke and take every single visitor from out-of-town to the Mill Mountain Star because it's such a unique place to view the city. I do so because it's the only place to see the city without being caught up in the crowds and traffic. That will all be gone if this lodge is built.

14. The “Hip Factor”- While we lose many of our best and brightest young people to “more happening” cities (Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, etc.), the ones that are here often lament that there is very little to do in the valley. The Mill Mountain Lodge would greatly enhance the Roanoke Valley’s hip factor. With social events, dinners with friends, wine tastings, art shows, and other activities on the over sized event deck/patios (with stunning views), the younger and professional set would appreciate and enjoy such a progressive, quality of life offering.
Are you kidding me? All of this happens at Hotel Roanoke already, and it's just steps from downtown! What about the mega-addition that was just added to the Roanoke Civic Center? (By the way -these other cities you mentioned are also able to manage their facilities well enough not to lose their pro sports franchises.) Art show? Isn't a new giant art museum being built in the heart of downtown?

15. Powerful Economic Development Tool- Imagine “State of the City” addresses overlooking the Valley, luncheons with promising industrial prospects, and training retreats for companies and organizations. Serving up the valley’s most inspiring views while doing the region’s business would be an inescapably powerful economic development tool.
This is reason number 10, just re-worded.

16. Visibility Ensures Success- Whereas Explore Park is isolated and tucked away, the MML would be a prominent landmark visible from the Roanoke Valley and conveniently accessed (and promoted) from the Parkway. The star’s renown would only enhance our famous mountain’s newest addition.
I don't think that a hotel that is visible from the valley below fits the "environmentally sensitive" mold you mention in reason number 8. Have you not heard all the uproar in the past few years about the views from the BRP being ruined by development? If people don't want to see building from the parkway, what makes you think they want to see more of them on Mill Mountain?

17. There is are so many reasons to do it-
There are no neighborhoods to bother. The construction and eventual traffic and sewage will bother those living further down the mountain.The City owns it. And it's a city park, not some unused parcel of land! It had a similar use previously, as the Rockledge and was once on the mountain in a rustic, historic inn. And the mountain was once free of any development, so this point is irrelevant. And finally, there is an 88-foot neon star already sitting majestically on the face of the mountain (with a still larger communications tower beside it), so defacing the mountain is not an issue.
Let me get this straight - you're honestly saying "because these things are there on the mountain, adding even more will be a good thing?" Why not just build up the entire mountain? Develop the entire thing! Pave it over.

Simply put, done properly and with architectural and aesthetic sensitivity and compatibility, the MML would greatly compliment the mountain and be easily accessible by citizens and dollar-spending visitors. It would benefit the Roanoke Valley financially, become a major selling feature (and selling mechanism) of the Roanoke Valley, and bring our Valley acclaim and community pride. Finally, it would open up our beloved community asset to all and for everyone’s enjoyment.

I just don't see it. Again, whatever your opinion, please write to City Council and let them know. I hope there are enough others who feel like I do; we should concentrate on developing the downtown area to attract visitors to our city. Mill Mountain is already an attraction. Please don't let them ruin it.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

If you want a tourist attraction, you better make it a good one!

It seems that Roanoke City Council is firmly behind the proposal put forth by Valley Forward to rebuild the Rockledge Inn atop Mill Mountain . I can't see how a hotel alone can attract visitors to the area unless there are substantial recreational activities available - like an extensive mountain biking trail system that includes the Chestnut Ridge Loop.

So how about it City Council and Valley Forward;

If you build this hotel in an City Park, will you lobby the National Park Service to open the Chestnut Ridge Loop Trail to mountain bikers in order to help attract young professionals and tourists to Roanoke?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cross Training

This past Thursday was the third consecutive time I've felt that I had to cancel our weekly Explore Park MTB excursion. It's just been too nasty to take any chances - I'd hate to see anyone get hurt because the conditions are bad, then get hypothermia because it's 19 degrees. Better to wait for nicer weather - which according to the NWS should be here this week!

This has been good weather for cross-training inside. But, I've been getting burned out on lifting weights in the gym and riding the trainer. This Thursday along with some of the usual Thursday Night Ride crew, I dusted off my rock climbing shoes and (with a hook-up from a secret source at a super-secret location) was on the wall for a couple hours. I had forgotten how much of a great cross-training workout climbing can be - you strengthen your hands and forearms, learn better balance, and sharpen your mental focus.

Next on my indoor cross-training agenda is to get back to playing a little pick-up hockey. I have about one more month to indulge in these other activities until my on-the-bike training time squeezes these things out of the picture again. That's OK too - I love the bike. It's just fun to be a different type of athlete once in a while.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cross blogging

When one blog just isn't enough. Click here.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Windy and cold...

Story of my life! Didn't that stupid groundhog see his shadow? Spring is on the way! ...shoot that damn groundhog...grumble, grumble. Long story short: almost 4 hours of base miles, more wind and cold. The end.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dragging the loop

I had it all planned out: a loop from my house out through the Hanging Rock Valley, through the lower trails of Carvins Cove, around the entire reservoir and back. According to my calculations about 35 miles total of pavement, trail and fire road. I'd never done it before, but it's not too imposing - mostly flat, very little technically challenging on the singletrack sections - so I wasn't at all worried. The plan was to leave the house at about 8am Saturday (Feb 3rd) so we could be back by noon. I had been planning this ride since last Saturday's three hour MTB stint ended.

All week I looked forward to it. Then, Friday evening I watched the weather forecast. Oh crap. Highs in the lower to mid thirties with 20-30 mph gusty winds. This would be interesting.

Pookie and I rolled out at 8am. We were greeted by a teperature of 27 degrees, and a steady 15 mph wind. The wind chill was somewhere in the area of the "you're an idiot" range. But the rides must be ridden. The base must be built...

The first hour was a constant stuggle to stay upright. Not only did we have severe crosswinds, but they would frequently swirl into headwinds that chilled us to the bone, and would drop our forward progress by 5 to 7 mph in a matter of seconds. This is the first time I ever remember the need to downshift into an easier gear going downhill! The energy was being sapped at an alarming rate. We had a long haul in front of us. This was not starting well.

Picture this: It's cold. It's VERY windy. You're getting tired. You're getting cranky. No one is forcing you to do this, and you're nowhere near being finished. That was our first hour!

Thank God for secondary roads that buffer the wind a bit because they are more tree-lined. This took some of the sting out of what our legs and faces had been feeling. An hour and a half into our journey, we reached the gate that leads into Carvins Cove.

The Comet was to be our first trail of the day: rolling and fast, usually. Today it was a nothing but frost heave. Crunchy, frozen, and laden with wind-fall timber. No flow, none whatsoever. We made it through to Enchanted Forest, which is currently in the worst shape I've ever seen. It looks like a giant walked through knocking trees over. We made it through the maze back to the fire road and decided to skip what would be our last section of trail for the day: Schoolhouse. It's a notoriously wet trail, and at 30 degrees, we were not very interested in getting wet.

The Happy Valley fireroad that carried us through to the far end of the Cove was the best part of our ride. It was dry and sheltered from the winds that we could still hear howling through the trees further up the side of the mountain. We reached the boat dock and the gusts began again.

Once onto Peters Creek Road, the winds became stronger than they had been at any point on the ride. Keep in mind, we had already fought them for two and a half hours. We were cooked and just wanted to get home. I knew it would be at least another hour. I also knew not to say that to Pookie. "Just keep your head down and pedal", I thought. I led the road segments the entire day, with a 15 to 20 mph head wind, and gusts to 30 mph. I was cooked, but I managed to keep it in Zone 2 (base, remember) almost the entire three and a half hours. I would assume that without the wind, we could knock this loop out in three hours flat.

Now I'm planning a variation of this ride that could bring the total milage up to about 50. It would also involve alot more single track and some climbing; the perfect combination for later in February.

Now if we can just get a break from these gale-force winds...