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The Gainsboro History Project

Roanoke’s Urban Renewal Projects

Between 1955 and 1972 the City of Roanoke established four areas for urban renewal.

  • Urban renewal began in 1955 with the Commonwealth Project, which was located in Northeast in the vicinity of what is now the Civic Center. It included the widening of Williamson Road and the removal of homes, schools, businesses, and churches to make property available for commercial redevelopment.
  • In 1964, the Kimball Project, also in Northeast Roanoke and adjacent to the Commonwealth Project, created commercial redevelopment opportunities for a new main post office, Norfolk & Western computer center, and Roanoke Gas offices. Like Commonwealth, the Kimball Project required the removal of neighborhood homes, schools, businesses, and churches.
  • In the late 1960s, the Downtown East Project funded clearance of business areas between Jefferson Street and Williamson Road for new development opportunities, which included Suntrust, Anthem BC-BS, Norfolk Southern, and Elmwood Park.
  • In 1972, the Gainsboro Neighborhood was targeted for urban renewal. Several revitalization plans were adopted over the years, and a Project Action Committee with neighborhood representatives was appointed to assist in implementation efforts.

Unlike the previous projects, Gainsboro consisted of multiple projects focused in specific areas of the neighborhood. These included: new housing and street improvements in Rutherford Court and on Rutherford and Madison Avenues, clearance for a new commerce park east of Gainsboro Road, the rehabilitation of several existing homes in other areas of the neighborhood, and clearance of many commercial buildings on Henry Street and Gainsboro Road.

High up photo of the Gainsboro neighborhood looking over Hotel Roanoke
View of the Gainsboro neighborhood in 1924 (Northeast and Northwest). Looking north over the Hotel Roanoke. St. Andrew’s Catholic Church is in the upper left, with First Baptist Church (Gainsboro) in front. Commonwealth Avenue leads off to the east. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries.
A high up photo of Northeast Roanoke where you can see the railway and machine shop
View of Northeast looking north along 4th Street. Norfolk and Western Railway roundhouse and machine shop are in the foreground. The original alignment of Williamson Road curves around the wooded hill at top. Courtesy of Roanoke Public Libraries.
A high up photo of the Roanoke Civic Center and Interstate 581
Roanoke Civic Center, Interstate 581, and Williamson Road. St. Andrew’s Catholic Church is in the bottom right. Photo Credit: Roanoke Times.

Redevelopment in Gainsboro after 1974

After the federal Urban Renewal program ended, the City of Roanoke continued to implement projects using other funding sources. 

  • Coca-Cola Bottling Company Project
    • In 1983 the City sought funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban  Development (HUD) to clear 23 acres in Gainsboro for a new plant for the Wometco Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
    • Funded by an Urban Development Action Grant from HUD, the City acquired 120 parcels between Shenandoah Avenue, 5th Street, and Loudon Avenue. It relocated 21 businesses, 18 homeowners, 13 renters, and 11 boarding house tenants. In addition, the company was approved for a $4 million interest-free loan, with a provision that the company provide 86 jobs for residents of Gainsboro.
    • In 1993 The Roanoke Times reported that 85 jobs had been created by the investment. However, the ultimate job benefits for Gainsboro residents continue to be a controversial topic.
  • Roadway Widening
    • Again in the 1990s, Gainsboro lost buildings to road construction. The City’s widening of Wells Avenue and Gainsboro Road removed even more businesses and homes from Gainsboro.

In 2008, the Gainsoro Neighborhood Development Program was officially closed by the City of Roanoke and the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The city no longer dedicated funding to the urban renewal program. Subsequent neighborhood improvement projects are considered annually as part of the City’s Community Development Block Grant Program.

See Also


Bishop, M. (n.d.). Racial remapping: How city leaders bulldozed Black neighborhoods.

Bishop, M. (1993, Nov. 24). Past makes Gainsboro wary of the lure of new jobs. Roanoke Times.

Bishop, M. (1995, Jan. 29). Street by street, block by block: How urban renewal uprooted black Roanoke. Roanoke Times.

Bowman, R. (2006, Jan. 1) Eminent domain ruling favors Virginia family. The Heartland Institute.

Chittum, M. (2019, May). Sold out, Roanoke Civic Center,  Roanoke, Virginia.  Discover History & Heritage Magazine. The Roanoke Times.

Fullilove, M. T. (2016) Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It. (2nd edition) New Village Press.

Mapping inequality: Redlining in New Deal American. American Panorama. Accessed January 2022.

National Commission on Urban Problems. (1968). Building the American city: Report of the National Commission on Urban Problems to the congress and the president of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office.

Pfau, A., Hochfelder, D., & Sewell, S. (2019, Nov. 12). Urban Renewal.  The Inclusive Historian’s Handbook,

U.S. Dept. of  Housing and Urban Development. (1974, June 30). Urban Renewal Directory.