Of Haywood St. PropertyBy
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.
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,