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Role in Revitalization

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Image courtesy The Bee via danvillebeehotel.com

ADA-compliant platform lift enhances hotel and historic district.

The song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” immortalized a pivotal event in the history of Danville, Virginia. The city, which has a population of approximately 43,000, was a major center of Confederate activity during the Civil War due to its location on the Richmond and Danville Railroad — the main supply route to General Robert E. Lee’s troops who were protecting Richmond, Virginia. The Danville supply train ran until Union troops led by General George Stoneman, Jr. destroyed the tracks at the end of the war in 1865. Many years later (1969), the event inspired the famous song by Canadian-American rock group The Band.[1]

During Reconstruction, Danville emerged as a tobacco, textiles and railroad powerhouse, until the late 20th century, when the textile industry moved to foreign, cheaper labor, and the restructuring of that industry, along with the tobacco and railroad industries, hit the city hard in terms of job losses.

Since, there have been efforts — ones that continue today — to preserve and revitalize Danville’s historic districts. In May 2020, top officials with Preservation Virginia announced the entire city of Danville as one of the state’s most endangered sites. Work to preserve and redevelop its River District, home to historic mills and other structures along the Dan River, has begun.[2] That effort hit a bump with the 2008 recession but has since gained new momentum with members of the public sector joining in.[1]

This was a fantastic design/build project. The area is extremely historic, but the owner wanted to include a modern look.

— Romar Elevators President Tim Wachendorfer

That momentum received a major boost when Roanoke, Virginia, developer Ed Walker purchased the buildings at 117-119 South Union Street in the River District for boutique 47-room hotel The Bee, which opened in December 2020. His US$7.5-million investment includes a public pocket park around which the hotel horseshoes. The Bee is named for the old Danville Register and Bee newspapers building in which it is housed.[3]  Such revitalization initiatives are reverberating and extending to the local construction and elevator industries, with Walker’s team hiring general contractor Blair Construction, which, in turn, hired subcontractor Romar Elevators, Inc., for the project.

“Our downtown has had a lot of growth in the last couple of years,” observes Nicole Bowman, administrative assistant at Romar, which has locations in Danville and Summerfield, North Carolina. Danville’s historic downtown is now home to quaint shops, restaurants and stylish lofts, and tourism officials hope more people discover what it has to offer. News that a casino had been approved in late 2020 only bolstered those hopes.[2]

As for the elevator, which is open to the public, it is a Savaria V-1504 platform lift Bowman describes as “a really nice addition for this part of our town.” The lift travels approximately 113.25 in. between the below-ground-level pocket park and hotel entrance. Headed by Romar Lead Certified Elevator Mechanic Kenneth Divens, the project launched in June 2020 and was receiving finishing touches in March 2021. Romar mechanic Marvin Holt worked with Divens on the job. Connected to the hotel, the elevator sits on the edge of the pocket park.

Divens says the most challenging part of the job was getting the elevator to ground level: Divens and Holt used a motorized forklift to lower the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant lift, which features:

  • A 36-X-54-in. platform and capacity of 750 lb with room and lifting capability for a passenger in a wheelchair
  • Straight-through entry and exit
  • Two stops
  • Hydraulic, machine-room-less operation
  • Heavy-duty materials that withstand extreme weather conditions

Similar projects Romar has done locally were primarily for churches. This one was unique and rewarding, according to the team. Tim Wachendorfer, president of Romar Elevators, says:

“This was a fantastic design/build project. The area is extremely historic, but the owner wanted to include a modern look. The custom black color and Plexiglas® inserts help accentuate the modern look in an old brick playground area.”

References

[1] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danville,_Virginia
[2] Hargove, Adrianna. “ Preservation Virginia Reveals State’s Most Endangered Historic Sites,” NBC 29 (May 20, 2020).
[3] Elzey, Susan. “With Nod to Newspaper Past, New Urban Boutique Hotel Opens for Business in Downtown Danville,” Register & Bee (December 18, 2020).

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