Nearly three years after Wells Fargo moved out of its previous home on Jefferson Street in downtown Roanoke, the historic, temple-like structure has a new owner.
Carilion Clinic, Roanoke’s largest private employer, announced Friday that it is buying the marble-faced former bank building, ending years of public speculation about who would purchase the iconic property. Questions about how the building will be used likely will continue, though, as the health care provider said it does not have specific plans for the building yet.
Carilion spokesman Mike Dame said the organization has a vested interest in the property, since Carilion Administrative Services building is right next door. While there are no immediate plans for the property, Dame said historic preservation of the 106-year-old building — and particularly its grand lobby — will be taken into serious consideration, and Carilion will not tear it down.
Carilion paid $500,000 for the 55,000-square-foot building.
Wells Fargo moved its main branch out of 201 S. Jefferson St. in 2016 and put the building on the market. It was listed in early 2016 for $3.265 million but did not sell. About a year ago, Wells Fargo donated the property to Virginia Community Capital, a community development financial institution that invests in housing, health care, food, business and quality-of-life projects designed to benefit communities. VCC spent the past year hunting for a buyer and hosting discussions with the public and government and economic development officials about potential uses for the property.
VCC will reinvest the proceeds from the purchase into the Roanoke region. President and CEO Jane Henderson said VCC didn’t want to sell the property to just anyone, but was looking for a buyer who would preserve it and honor its history. The group also partnered with Roanoke developer Ed Walker, who shared VCC’s vision of preserving the bank building, and in mid-December he spoke with Carilion about purchasing the property.
“Rehabs of bank buildings from this era are in my opinion the most difficult to achieve of any kind of historic development,” said Walker, who redeveloped historic Roanoke properties including The Patrick Henry, The Hancock and The Cotton Mill Lofts.
The bank building features a 9,500-square-foot lobby strung with chandeliers and decor of an era long gone. It still has many of the historical aspects as it did when it was constructed in 1912. It also has four floors of offices.
“Similar to the exterior of the building, the large, ornate lobby speaks to the historic function of the building as a bank and the way banking business was historically conducted,” said Alison Blanton, a preservation director at Hill Studio. “The ornate architecture of the interior was a statement to the prestige and stability of the First National Exchange Bank who built it.”
A buyer would likely need deep pockets and creativity to preserve it and keep it in use.
“What makes it beautiful is what makes it challenging,” Henderson said. VCC officials saw Carilion as a natural fit as a new owner because of the nonprofit’s long track record of supporting the community and its innovative use of some other historic buildings. Last year, Carilion opened a simulation lab in the trolley barn building near Dr Pepper Park, keeping some historic aspects of the property intact.
“Now that it is safe and in the right long-term hands, it will be wonderful to see what unfolds in the coming years,” Walker said. “Exactly what it will be will take time to process, but Carilion is the perfect steward in every way. It’s a huge relief.”
Dame said Carilion didn’t have an immediate interest in the property when it went on the market. But when Walker approached Carilion last month, officials saw it as a great opportunity to get extra office space downtown, especially as Carilion continues to grow. He also said the organization knew that the money it paid for the building would be used for Roanoke-area projects through VCC, which is what really sold the deal.
Carilion will now look through the extensive notes VCC acquired through community discussions for some potential uses for the building. Some suggestions have included an event space, a museum, or a retail and residential space, according to Leah Fremouw, the director of community impact at VCC.
This is one of the few large vacant properties left in downtown Roanoke, which has seen significant redevelopment in the past decade. Downtown Roanoke Inc. spokeswoman Jaime Clark said the news of the building’s purchase is exciting.
“This is a positive development that we anticipate will bring increased activity to Jefferson Street,” she said. “Additional employees in our downtown workforce are beneficial to our downtown restaurants and retailers and we’re pleased to see this building be utilized again.”
Staff writer Jeff Sturgeon contributed to this story.