Wilkinson updates Lions Club on development projects

The Vinton Host Lions Club welcomed real estate developer Dale Wilkinson and his son Seth as guest speakers for the meeting on April 9.  Wilkinson founded the Wilkinson Group, Inc. in 1988 “to serve the business development, insurance, and real estate needs of the community.”

He is one of the Old School Partners group (along with David Hill, Greg Rhodes, and David Spigle) that renovated the former Roland E. Cook School into 21 upscale apartments. The Roland E. Cook Lofts opened in the summer of 2017. Lion Doug Forbes and his wife Mattie were among the first to sign a lease in the building where they had attended school as children and advocated for the project for several years.

Forbes introduced the Wilkinsons to the Lions members with background information on the Roland E. Cook project.

Old School Partners purchased the property from Roanoke County for $10. With historic tax credits (which make these redevelopment projects possible for the most part) and an investment of $3 million, the developers turned the former school into what Forbes described as “one of the best apartment buildings in the county.”

Forbes commended them for preserving a historic structure, built in 1915 with an addition in 1926. Forbes’ mother, Dorothy Carroll Forbes, was in the first class to attend the school when she was 9 years old and in third grade. He noted that each large classroom was converted into an apartment, replete with the original chalkboards and, for the most part, the original floors.

He noted that in general historic buildings are more complicated to preserve and to renovate than to just build “from scratch.” He commended Wilkinson for the quality of the work by Old School Partners and added that any other project undertaken by Wilkinson “will be done right.”

Wilkinson told the Lions that his in-laws, the Bilyeus, are members of Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church where the Host Lions meet. He said that they asked him repeatedly for years why he didn’t take on real estate projects in Vinton.

He described his work as a real estate developer as “throwing a lot of darts until you find one that sticks.” In his early involvement with the Roland E. Cook project, Wilkinson was intrigued by the intense interest of the community in preserving the former school and their subsequent efforts to carry the project through.  He said that his experiences working with the Town of Vinton and its “salt of the earth” citizens have been invariably positive.

Wilkinson complimented the Lions on their service in “keeping their ears to the ground to fill holes of need in the community.” He said that he has come to recognize that Vinton is a “special little community.” He commended Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters for his economic development efforts and for being a “reflection” of the community he serves.

Wilkinson said that he has come to view the renovation of the Roland E. Cook site as the creation of a Planned Unit Development incorporating “all aspects of life” in one development with the apartment building itself, the downtown businesses, and the nearby greenway.

Once he became acquainted with Vinton through the Roland E. Cook project, Wilkinson went on to purchase the River Park Shopping Center, which he described as 14 acres and 60,000 square feet of “underutilized” property that could become a “great tax generator for the Town of Vinton.” He said that it is “unique” to find 14 acres to work with and is now “waiting for a good idea to emerge.”

Wilkinson has also purchased the Vinton Post Office on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton with an 11-year lease with the USPS. He is well aware of the traffic issues at the site that are familiar to all who frequent the facility. He discussed possible solutions for the traffic situation through re-orienting its entrances. His goal is to develop a “state-of-the-art post office inside and out,” mostly within the current footprint, and to establish a new traffic pattern.

Wilkinson discussed other redevelopment projects of interest outside of Vinton in Roanoke such as renovations to Fire Station No. 1 in the market area of downtown Roanoke. He described the structure as a “piece of firefighting history with its original brass poles and wood,” which may come to house bed and breakfast rooms.

He also mentioned a project with the old Price Filler Machine Shop building in Roanoke.

Wilkinson said he is always on the lookout for land and buildings to buy with hopes of ‘trying to preserve every bit of community we can.”

More information on Wilkinson Group projects can be found at http://thewilkinsongroupinc.com/current-projects

Lion Denny Dickens informed the membership that the spring preschool eye-screenings have been completed with 292 youngsters evaluated at 11 schools resulting in 35 referrals. He also discussed the scholarships that will soon be awarded to William Byrd seniors. Sam Camden asked for volunteers for the White Cane fundraiser at the Vinton Kroger on May 12.

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