Partners begin work on community center, to transform recent trouble spot

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) The people who gathered on Melrose Avenue Wednesday morning were celebrating a new direction for a Roanoke property with a troubled history.

A suspicious fire earlier this month was just the latest in a long string of problems

Capt. Rick Morrison with the Roanoke Police Department led the effort to re-purpose the building in a way that would benefit the community.

"I can go back on many, many weekends, and reflect on the violent crime that took place here on this very spot where you are standing today," Morrison told the crowd, "of shootings, of stabbings, of disorders where officers were putting themselves in jeopardy."

But big changes are happening. The work is under way, and soon, this building will become a Community Solutions Center, with meeting space, a commercial-grade kitchen, and training programs.

Pamela Irvine is the CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

"And it's going to be food service certification, and elementary culinary arts training, and we'll have a production kitchen," Irvine said. "And we'll feed children fresh, nutritious meals, which we've waited 36 years to be able to do that."

Businesses on either side of the property say they are pleased to see the transformation. Eraldo Williams operates the Island Jerk restaurant on the corner of 24th Street and Melrose Avenue.

"I'm glad to see that over there," Williams said. "And the youth center is good for the community."

Roanoke Tribune Publisher Claudia Whitworth agreed.

"So we're excited to welcome them into the community, to add to the assets of what is happening in this area," Whitworth said. "It just seems to be all positive all of a sudden."

The project will cost about $850,000, with the city of Roanoke and Food Lion providing most of the funding.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia plans to use the kitchen for its summer feeding program next year, so construction should be in full swing soon.