Historic tax credits could give new life to old factory in SE Roanoke

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - A local factory that was once the largest producer of rayon in the world is still producing for the community, this time in far more diverse ways.
The American Viscose Company complex has now been given special recognition and perhaps a new chapter.

Situated between the Roanoke River and sprawling railroad tracks, the American Viscose Company stands tall and proud in Southeast Roanoke.

"It was somewhat unique in the fact that it offered employment for a lot of women," said Allison Blanton.

Blanton, Architectural Historian and Vice President at Hill Studio in Roanoke, has spent a good deal of time researching the place. She said the plant even had a dormitory for female employees. It was the second largest employer in Roanoke up until its closure in 1958, just behind the railroad. It had about 5,000 employees in its peak years.

"I guess I'm a little bit of a nerd in that I get really excited about these obscure histories!" she said.

But this complex's history is one that lives on. Pedro Szalay recently moved the Star City school of Ballet into the building's old cafeteria.

"It was like, okay, that's it," Szalay said of the first time he walked into the massive building. 'This is the space."

Attracted by high ceilings, natural light and abundant space, he and his business partner felt it was the perfect place to bring his artistic endeavors.

"We want to make sure this space here in southeast is like a gathering and enjoyment place to keep the arts alive," he said.

Renewed interest in these spaces sparked the complex's group of owners to consult Blanton, who helped get the building listed on the National Register of Historic places. That means renovators now have access to historic tax credits.

"I think it's exciting that what I've seen already is that it's a real variety of uses which I think will be exciting and fun and hopefully will bring some life back to that complex," Blanton said. "...That will also generate some excitement in the neighborhood around there."

"I think it's great," said Robbie Hebert. 'I mean, I think it's a diamond in the rough."

For Herbert, owner of Lab Sports Performance, tax credits are a game changer.

"I think it's one of those things where it's gonna help the area grow and create a lot of opportunity," he said.

He's taking advantage of this opportunity by expanding, adding indoor fields, a partnership with Carilion Clinic's sports medicine department, and a cafe called Chris's Coffee and Custard, employing folks with special needs.

"Big month, a lot of work to do!" he said.

It's a lot of work for the future, but these tenants, and perhaps others, will be using this building's past to get them there.

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