To be an active participant in economic development, both locally and regionally, by helping assure the financial health of vital elements of western and central Virginia’s cultural quality of life.
Crumbling concrete, vacant storefronts, a lack of safety. . . downtown Roanoke had become diseased with crime and desolation by the early 70’s. It would surely take a major catalyst to restore this once vibrant area. Simultaneously, area schools struggled to fund scientific programs for their students, Mill Mountain Theatre burned down, and several cultural organizations were located in unsafe and unappealing areas in town. Perhaps all of these challenges could be solved at the same time.
The proposed remedy? To convert an abandoned feed and seed warehouse from 1914 into a hub of education and tourism. The Western Virginia Foundation for
the Arts and Sciences, DBA: Center in the Square, agreed to purchase this building. . . but who would be brave enough to relocate to this currently unappealing downtown area? Realizing that this would be a tough sell, The Western Virginia Foundation for the Arts and Sciences agreed to let non-profit organizations move in RENT FREE for two years! The five organizations who were brave enough to take on this challenge were:
* The Arts Council
* The Art Museum
* Mill Mountain Theatre
* The History Museum
* The Science Museum
In 1983 Center in the Square’s doors opened and welcomed over 45,000 visitors its first weekend. Success! And now we are proud to offer FIVE buildings to TWELVE arts and cultural organizations AND we are even prouder still, to have extended the offer of FREE RENT ever since.
Together with our beneficiary organizations, Center in the Square provides over $30 million worth of annual economic impact to the Roanoke area. However, donation trends have been dramatically decreasing over the past several years. It was because of this declining donation trend, that Center in the Square also began renting unused museum spaces to local businesses. Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, Allstate, The Penthouse at Center in the Square, The Candy Store, etc., moved in to Center in the Square’s very busy buildings. These businesses have helped Center in the Square offset their building’s operational costs and have helped increase foot traffic and exposure for our beneficiary organizations as well.
In 1992 the state ceased funding non-state run organizations, Center in the Square being one of them. With that one decision Center in the Square lost $600,000 worth of annual support each year. Changes had to be made fast. Serendipity! Though unable to immediately close the monetary gap left by the state, this decision caused Center in the Square to no longer rely on the uncertainty of donations alone. It had to turn to something that it could control itself instead. Cutting 30 staff down to just 8 happened instantly, but was not enough to make up the difference. Center in the Square began providing services to other non-profits at rates that they could easily afford. Services like IT, marketing and accounting were offered at half price rates to local non-profits and this offered Center in the Square a new way to generate revenue.
Another major change was on its way. After nearly thirty years and millions of patrons, the building was exhausted. Plumbing, HVAC, and water lines were deteriorating and so were Center in the Square’s funds. The historic nature of the Center in the Square building offered an opportunity for businesses to get involved in its restoration, with a benefit of their own. Historic tax credits were purchased by companies like AEP/APCO, Delta Dental, Berglund Automotive Group, SunTrust, Wells Fargo, and Advance Auto allowing them to claim credit for eligible improvement expenses against their tax liability. It’s a win-win-win. Center in the Square benefits, contributing businesses benefit, and most importantly, the community benefits.
Not only were infrastructural improvements made, but so were improvements that would help generate excitement and increased revenue for Center in the Square and its beneficiary organizations. A hole was cut through the fifth floor’s ceiling, making way for a new exhibit for the Science Museum of Western Virginia, an exotic butterfly garden! Soon after, monstrous vehicles and cranes delivered what would become the largest salt water tank in the Mid-Atlantic region, in an area where low-income children may never get to experience the ocean for themselves. Patrons would soon be able to see colorful coral, vibrant clownfish, pufferfish, jellyfish, and other marine life, for FREE inside Center in the Square’s atrium.
With six new aquariums, an eco-friendly rooftop space and a coral lab, Center in the Square could begin offering schools SOL compliant field trip tours at low costs. Center in the Square now provided teachers with a new educational resource and another stream of revenue flowed into the non-profit. Determined to take steady steps towards self-sufficiency, Center in the Square created the Roanoke Pinball Museum, Kids Square, Roanoke STARCADE and the Get Schooled! Program.
Our Pinball Museum has offered a new way to appreciate history and physics, and all while having fun family time.
Our children’s museum has appealed to a previously unserved demographic, the youngest members of our community. More than 1,400 patrons visit weekly!
The Roanoke STARCADE is a new 3,000 square foot facility just a quick walk from the Roanoke Pinball Museum on the 2nd floor. It features classic and new arcade systems and activities for gaming, competition, private engagements and of course, great family fun!
Our Get Schooled! Educational Program gives 500,000 patrons a free opportunity to learn about ocean life and sustainable green architecture. This program
also has a guided tour option where we bring “textbooks to life” for field trip students. Our SOL compliant tours allow students to see real life
applications of what they have learned or will learn about in class. We are proud to have created these programs and museums to help
counteract this declining donation trend, but these have not been able to close the monetary gap entirely.