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Opinion: The Biggest Project Virginia Tech can’t Undertake

The Hokies continue to work on the growth of the football program and the campus, but there’s another side to the recruiting and fundraising battle that people miss...

East Carolina v Virginia Tech Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

In the past few years since I was a fifth year senior in the architecture department (standard operating procedure), a lot has happened around the Hokies’ campus. The Southgate interchange is being built, which hopefully will clean up some of the traffic on 460 on the way into town. (thanks to VDOT for having these videos up on YouTube)

Mike’s Grill closed down, along with Backstreets and Pita Vera/More than Coffee, three of my favorite restaurants in town. Forty years in business and the classic location shuttered to a confused populace. Backstreets was thirty years going, and while it was replaced by Mellow Mushroom, Backstreets was still something I missed as I came back down for my fifth year (I spent my fourth year at the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center). Pita Vera closed with much less fanfare due to their lesser longevity. Cookout moved into town, putting a location on South Main by the Campus Emporium that’s quite popular. The regional chain finally migrated up from North Carolina, and I know that Harrisonburg has a location now as well. Frank Theaters CineBowl was closed out for three days due to falling almost half a million dollars behind in rent, despite the popularity. Other local businesses have fallen as well, and while new tenants are mentioned (DP Dough also moved in while I was on campus), it seems like the small town churn has finally gotten to long-resident businesses.

But my biggest worry about growing Virginia Tech as a program for a long time has been location. How much can the university support- and at the same time, how much support can the university get- from Blacksburg and the surrounding area.

Blacksburg is rated as one of the top 25 places in the United States to retire per Forbes, and has been for multiple years. It’s beautiful if you love mountains and the quiet life, but it’s not your typical college town. Blacksburg and Christiansburg are still far away from a major economic center- that has hurt in recruiting as the town is three or four hours away from the DMV and the 757, basically making it the same as many other local schools and DEFINITELY not in the league of how close UMD is to DC with those recruits. If ODU eventually becomes a major college school (odds are against it, but it isn’t IMPOSSIBLE to imagine), you could see that recruiting territory drying up as it sucks in more and more local kids.

Blacksburg, I feel confident enough to say, has a size and congestion problem when the population load increases on its most economically important days. The multiple two/one lane roads around campus and in the area make moving in and out of town on gamedays a straight pain. While the lack of hotels in the area is somewhat diminishing, people still frequently have to get hotel rooms in Salem or Roanoke in order to visit. One of the shifting priorities has been Thursday night games- Tech can’t seem to win on its schedule. Former AD Jim Weaver hadn’t liked Thursday night games because the older fans couldn’t make them. Babcock requested one in 2015, so that was definitely a thing, but now he’s gone on to ask for more Saturdays in October at the cost of that Thursday night. Is that the accessibility issue coming up again? Maybe. Part of that is that you can’t get everything you want- last year we had no Saturday home games in October, but the request had to be made for a reason. That is probably simply the result of some balance sheet somewhere in the somewhat-frequently-defunct-and-always-draconically-byzantine ACC scheduling abacus, but it just struck me as odd when that priority shifted.

So what am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the small town and fanbase realities of what Blacksburg is and what the town infrastructure can support will always cap or guide what can exactly be done to upgrade the program. This is also not me yelling about it negatively- I happen to love Blacksburg as a town. My parents live down there and I’m much more a quiet rural-type guy. I don’t need a ton around me to find things to do or entertain me. I’m actually planning on spending a day down there this summer doing something I never really took the time to do, and that go take some photographs of the local architecture, new and old just for some design inspiration on my part (for those that don’t know, my full time job is as an architectural associate up here in NoVa). But things are shifting in Blacksburg, and what happens in terms of the economic growth and stability of the town and the transportation and entertainment infrastructure around it will either help or hinder the growth of the university and especially the geographical pitch of Blacksburg in general.

I love Blacksburg. I love Virginia Tech.

A LOT OF PEOPLE DO, BECAUSE IT’S A GREAT AND AWESOME PLACE TO BE.

But how much it changes in the near future is going to be an interesting sidebar to track alongside the development of the athletic programs.