Of Haywood St. Property


I’ve been getting a lot of email regarding the Haywood Street property that’s under consideration at the 9/11/12 City Council meeting. Here’s the reply I sent most recently, to someone who referenced the Aloft’s design –

Thanks, Mr. Smith, for your interest in this issue. Please note that I voted against the Aloft Hotel. That building will be the last built under the old rules. From now on, every building downtown will have to comply with new, stricter design rules passed unanimously by City Council in 2010. Downtown development brings out strong opinions, and I’ve heard a lot of them regarding the Haywood Street property. Everyone involved cares about the future of the city, and everyone wants an outcome we can be proud of for generations to come. Please forgive the length of this message. There’s a lot of information to cover!

Current conditions and opportunities

We know that the current situation is undesirable for everyone. Surface parking and dilapidated buildings create dead space in our city center. It’s blight, and the city should not support it.

The process of putting city-owned land up for sale began in 2005 as a way to support affordable housing in Asheville, and Asheville continues to have an acute affordable housing crisis.

Proceeds from a land sale could go immediately to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). The AHTF loans money at low interest to builders who will help create affordable housing in our city limits. The great thing about these loans is that the money comes back to the fund, where it can be reallocated again and again. AHTF funds can immediately begin building hundreds of affordable housing units for working people in Asheville.

This will create construction jobs, and the resulting buildings will add to our city’s tax rolls, allowing additional investments in parks, police, and transportation. Affordable housing and corridor density are crucial to making our local economy stronger and more sustainable over the long term.

Further, it is only through building on that site that we’re going to connect Haywood Street and the Grove Arcade via the Civic Center and beautiful Basilica of St. Lawrence for residents and visitors alike.

In response to some of the many ideas out there:

— Leaving the area as surface parking would continue the current dead space problem without helping with affordable housing needs or pushing towards creation of a plaza.

— Creating another city park would (1) postpone the series of river parks and greenways currently underway; (2) create no property tax revenue or fulfill other economic development goals; (3) leave affordable housing needs unmet; (4) be financially impossible without a broad partnership that is currently not being contemplated by anyone; (5) be very costly in a time when parks budgets are stretched to the max.

— I have enormous respect for the people who attend the Basilica of St. Lawrence, and I fear they may not know all of the facts about what’s been going on. The Basilica was one of nine entities that were deemed qualified, along with the McKibbon Group, back in 2007. The Basilica did not submit a proposal when the process was open. Matt Mores, who was representing the Basilica at the time, was interested in seeing a nine-story hotel on the site.

Earlier this year, after an initial letter demanding that the City take or leave an offer less than half of what was being offered by The McKibbon Group, the Basilica representatives began broadcasting urgent warnings of dire consequences. In response to these concerns, the Asheville Design Center offered to mediate discussions between McKibbon and Basilica representatives. A different Basilica representative, Lou Bisette, was brought to the table. These discussions were fruitful, producing six agreed-upon design principles. Then the Basilica abruptly withdrew from these talks and released Mr. Bisette, bringing back their original spokesman, Matt Mores. The McKibbon Group and the Asheville Design Center remain open to resuming those discussions.

The Basilica does not have a contract with the Kessler Group, whom they suggest will do their building, and my understanding is that they do not have the necessary funding to bring a project to completion.

Changes in representation, walking away from negotiations about design principles, shifting desires for what should be built, the lack of a firm agreement with a developer, and the lack of capital – All of these things lead me to having less confidence in the Basilica’s ability to achieve a desirable outcome in a reasonable time frame.

Protecting the integrity of the Basilica

When the city sells this property, we will be able to sculpt a development agreement with the buyer. Any development agreement should include requirements for seismic monitoring and consultation with a geotechnical engineer. If integrity of Basilica is threatened, then construction must stop until a solution is reached.

There must be a significant buffer space between any new building and the architectural treasure of the Basilica in order to assure its structural integrity. That buffer space can take the form of a world-class plaza/piazza if all of the parties involved will cooperate to make it happen. The Basilica will have to be the lead entity in doing so, because they already own the necessary land. We can reroute the roads, make a safer intersection, and create a lovely plaza. It will require cooperation, and I’m hopeful we can get there.

Further, any proposed building would be the first under new design guidelines we approved in 2010 after a lengthy public Downtown Master Plan process. The new guidelines were described by the Asheville Citizen Times as embodying a compromise between development interests and critics of new downtown construction.

Aesthetic tastes vary wildly, but no matter your opinion of Aloft or Indigo, built under the old rules, every building built from now on will fall under the new design guidelines. Also, the proposed building would be shorter than the historic apartment buildings on either side of it and would use brick facades to correspond with the surrounding structures.

Lastly, I am open to all suggestions about how we can further improve any development agreement in order to arrive at the best possible outcome.

In conclusion

The McKibbon Group is prepared to invest more than $25 million into our downtown. As people cry out for economic relief, it would be folly to reject this investment. The property tax revenues will help all of our citizens in perpetuity.

The $2.3 million sale price of the land can go directly to creating affordable housing in our community. I will not vote for the project unless Council agrees to dedicate money to this purpose.

The decision will neither create nor prohibit a park/plaza. We need a welcoming space to join Haywood to Grove Arcade and to complement the Basilica and Civic Center. There can be a plaza, and step one will be the Basilica saying they want it and being willing to either build it or partner with others who want to do so.

We need to do away with the urban blight that exists there now.

Our new design guidelines coupled with a development agreement will ensure the highest quality building and protection of the structural integrity of the Basilica.

I hope this information is helpful,

Gordon Smith


  1. michael says:

    After attending the public presentation by the Basilica folks, I was struck by how similar their position is to the current plan to sell to McKibbon:
    Protect the structure of the Basilica during construction,
    realign streets,
    create a grand open plaza,
    bounded by a new multi-story building on the south edge.
    Although they adamantly repeated that they were opposed to a hotel, they really gave no good reasons.
    I heard:
    Economics of hotel don’t work (too many already, we need to protect McKibbon from himself);
    Members of this parish own hotels, they don’t want competition;
    an apartment building would better accommodate world class design.

    None of this really made any sense. An apartment building on a piazza will create a grander design than a hotel?
    We should not allow another hotel because someone in the Parish might find more competition?
    Their renderings showed an awkward building, with tall arched windows fronting the piazza. What happens in this space inside an apartment building? Look at the dead space at the street level of our existing downtown apartment buildings- these are lifeless spaces, inappropriate for activating a plaza.

    The kicker, however, was when the Basilica spokesman mentioned that the McKibbon presentation included realigning Page Ave, (which would require cooperation of the Church). He stated that if the Church does not get this property instead of the McKibbon group, they would not cooperate on any property and road reconfigurations in order to create this desired footprint, even though their own design showed this realignment.

    It seemed to me a childish attitude, where if you don’t play by my rules, I’m taking my ball and going home.

    I was originally open to the Basilica position, but after learning more, I have no respect or confidence in this group.
    Michael McDonough

  2. Tim Peck says:

    With the Sullivan Acts, new democratic barriers to forced annexation, a newly-independent airport authority, a pending regional water system merger, the repeal of some recent questionable annexations, and with businesses, students and residents moving out and 50% of city workers now living out of town, the City of Asheville, specifically, its tax base, is shrinking and will continue to shrink. Couple that with the city thumbing its nose at Raleigh with its irrelevant referendum and Asheville’s future looks like it’s being run by Dim and Dimmer.

    Tuck your tail, sell the property, let the buyer do whatever they want, pivot and walk away.

  3. Ascend of Asheville says:

    Thanks Tim, that’s a very concise list of reasons to vote Tim Moffitt out of office.

    I’d like to go on record as not having any, um, faith, in the plans put forward by the owners of the Basilica.

    I think the Basilica would make an awesome restaurant and avant garde exotic dance venue, but that’s just me.

  4. jeff hersk says:

    Gordon, thanks for the information. I am not familiar with the new guidelines for downtown buildings. Would those guidelines have prevented McKibbon from building the monstrosity they built on Biltmore Ave.?

    You must understand that the people of Asheville are skeptical based on variances to the rules that have been given in the past, such as the signage rules variance given to US Cellular.

    Has McKibbon offered drawings of what they propose to build? Based on what they have already built downtown, I don’t think they can be trusted with the Basilica site without some serious oversight. Who are the overseers?

  5. Ascend of Asheville says:

    Variances. Here here!

    I understand that the zoning commission very recently added some much needed backbone in that department. It will be interesting going forward to see how that works out.

  6. Gordon Smith says:


    Good questions. The new downtown design guidelines were part of the Downtown Master Plan that was developed over many months with hundreds of people offering input via public meetings. You can read about the design guidelines that passed here and here. Yes, the Aloft hotel was the last structure built under the old guidelines. New buildings will have to adhere to the new rules.

    Here’s McKibbon’s website regarding their proposal. While I voted against the Aloft, I will say that McKibbon delivered exactly what they promised. Their drawings for that project were accurate. However, since this project involves a city land sale, we will also get to draw up a development agreement to which any developer will have to adhere. I am personally interested in ensuring the best seismic monitoring in our agreement, in order to ensure the structural integrity of the Basilica. I certainly understand the skepticism. I hope I’ve answered your questions satisfactorily.

  7. Gordon Smith says:

    Why does Tim Peck hate Asheville so much?

  8. Bill says:

    I dunno. Seems like he would be much happier in a place like Sandy Springs, Ga. But I digress.

  9. Dr. Roger Hartley says:

    My personal opinion on this that the dispute and conflict has gotten people to the table who might not have been. The pressure from different stakeholders has also helped form what the public might want from the best use of public space and the sale of city owned land.

    I think that maximizing the size of a plaza…hopefully greenspace…can be an important outcome of this conflict. I don’t think that the space that Mckibbon’s plan call for is adequate of most useful to take into consideration the interests of the Basilica and those pressing for a park.

    Can you explain the rationale behind the Basilica’s involvement being necessary to a plaza? Is it because that it is their property? What do you think of the proposal to alter the street (not a bad idea) and how much with that cost?



  10. shadmarsh says:

    Too many evil non-profits, and freaks I would guess…oh, and none of its women will talk to him.

  11. Does Moffitt or Muller write Peck’s material these days?

  12. Ascend of Asheville says:

    Muller is the scribe. Moffitt is the evil genius. Tim is the spastic minion.

    Come to think of it, Moffitt does look just a little like Mike Myers, if you squint a bit.

  13. Andrew Dahm says:

    This is either on or off topic, but there’s this:

    Now, the thing I’ve learned about crazy people is that they’re very predictable. It’s entirely likely that when the Eichenwald article makes the rounds and appears in the froth of our daily distemper a day or two from now, the denial will be couched in denunciation: “The Obama administration is leaking info to the press; how curious this article should appear now, I smell a rat, etc.”

    If I am wrong about this, I’ll buy somebody something, but if predicting Republican talking points paid money, I’d have a lake house.

    Rhetorically, it’s much the same strategy as that employed a few comments up: Attack the legitimacy of the adversary, not just in terms of argument, but in terms of license to so much as breathe. Threaten in a way that allows one to deny issuing a threat, in hopes that the debate will morph into the forensics of threats. Deny, deny, deny.

    Psychologically, well, that’s psychological. We’re supposed to be paving streets and making sure old folks don’t start buying Fancy Feast, so the intrusion of neurosis in the public arena is most inconvenient and unhelpful.

    The last time I saw this kind of fervid, animus-infused, fact-free “defense” of a set of “ideas,” Richard Nixon was in the White House. And then, as now, the issue was not what was right for the country, or, for that matter, what the future would look like (imagine that as a mission for government!). No, the issue is Holding On. Holding onto money, or power, or status, or the melanoidin-power-and-influence ratio as it’s always been, forever, amen.

    Except it wasn’t that way forever, but Benjamin Franklin’s opinions about German-Americans are for another time.

  14. Andrew Dahm says:

    And the hotel thing: If deferral is a live option, consider it. Selling into this economy doesn’t serve the city’s best interests, a park is not doable now, but you never know.

  15. Roger E. Hartley says:

    I have argued and hoped for a park. And I’ve argued that public land is different. The highest and est public purpose is most important for sale of this land. You can’t always get what you want, but the proposal to earmark profits from the sale to housing is one fulfillment of public good. The effort to carve out a plaza with native plants is another. A good design is another. Preserving the Basilica is another. If we can press forward and do all this…as best we can then this city land has done it’s job. Local businesses and living wages are icing. Great work Gordon!!! Councilman Hunt. And great work to those who have demanded more. I wanted a park and Now there is a chance for green space …and much more. A lot of work to do. This is only beginning.

    But what an example of great consideration of public good. I think.

  16. Roger E. Hartley says:

    By the way, some may not know, but I direct the Masters of Public Affairs program at WCU. My opinions are my own of course.

    I wanted to mention that I kicked off my classes this semester with this conflict as a case of sorts. 25 students and I watched the public hearing and the debate in class tonight. We will have a great discussion next week of the interests and positions of parties and the decision.

  17. Davyne Dial says:

    It was encouraging to see the Mayor hold staff accountable for not including in the preliminary wording a lot of what Hunt and Smith specified needed to be considered in this project. She’s right, all that was brought up by Hunt and Smith should have been ironed out by staff, beforehand.

  18. Does anyone ever give any thought to the un-elected City staff? Council takes a lot of heat for what goes on in meetings but it’s the staff who handle a lot of day-to-day, nuts and bolts work….

    Or mishandle it.

  19. Andrew Dahm says:

    Actually, staff has done a good job of convincing this Council of the absolute urgency of doing, doing, and doing. In my opinion, anyway.

  20. Ascend of Asheville says:

    Occasionally we get into discussions in which someone brings up the entrenched, non-elected, yet very powerful and insulated members of the local machinery that seem to have their own plan and vision, motivations, target demographic, and constituency. The admonitions from Mayor Bellamy last night are late in coming.

    It needs to be followed up with some reviews and some action. An out of control bureaucracy, even a small cadre of old guard protectors of certain interests can derail the city’s planning process and leave us with a long legacy of failed projects, badly designed spaces, streets and infrastructure, a large tax burden and an unaffordable city.

    I think the items added by council are good ideas, and I do hope the money goes to help the housing crunch. I’m not holding my breath though.

  21. Dixiegirlz says:

    The admonitions from Mayor Bellamy last night are late in coming.”

    True, but in retrospect, the Mayor was sort of instrumental in the present City Manager getting his job. So her recent complaints are especially significant, in my opinion.

  22. Andrew Dahm says:

    I’m sorry, but I still want to make this thread about the America-hating Republicans.

  23. Rebekah says:

    Can someone provide a link to the Downtown Asheville Design Guidelines? I have the link to the Downtown Master Plan PDF document but it talks about “additions to the existing Downtown Asheville Design Guidelines,” which I cannot locate on the web.