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23-story building proposed for downtown Asheville

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4/20/2007 - 23-story building proposed for downtown Asheville
by ACT

ASHEVILLE A group of investors proposes to build a 23-story building containing a luxury boutique hotel and residential condominiums on Biltmore Avenue less than two blocks south of Pack Square.

The Ellington would be at 35 Biltmore Ave., just north of Doc Cheys restaurant, and would contain 125 hotel rooms and 52 residential condominiums. A group of investors called Ellington Partners has presented a proposal for the structure to the city Downtown Commission for informal review and says construction would begin in 2008.

The project would ultimately require City Council approval and may be controversial because of its height.

The building would have more stories than the BB&T Building, but the tops of the two buildings would be roughly equal in elevation because The Ellington site is lower than where the BB&T sits, said Karen Tessier, a spokeswoman for the project.

It appears on the skyline at about the same height, she said.

Downtowns growing popularity has sparked significant developer interest in the central business district, but a number of taller buildings that have been proposed downtown over the past three years have yet to be built and it is possible that some never will.

Grove Park Inn involved

Ellington Partners includes the Grove Park Inn, which would operate the hotel portion of the building and give guests access to the inns facilities in North Asheville, and McManus Development, a local firm headed by one of the owners of Pack Plaza, the office buildings to the south and southwest of Pack Square.

Others are E2M, a real estate investment fund based in Dallas, and The Beck Group, a real estate development firm based in Atlanta and Dallas. Beck is the developer for the project and Three Architecture of Dallas is the architect.

The Ellington is named for Douglas Ellington, the architect who designed some of Ashevilles most notable buildings during the first part of the 20th century, including City Hall, First Baptist Church, the S&W Cafeteria and Asheville High School.

Tessier said the building would be in a style she called neo-Deco but said a final design has not been decided. She declined to release any preliminary renderings.

The building would be located on an L-shaped half-acre that includes an empty lot just north of Doc Cheys, an empty building at 31 Biltmore Ave. that would be torn down and adjoining parking lots that front on South Lexington Avenue.

The front would be set back from the edge of the sidewalk on Biltmore Avenue and the building would get slimmer as it gets taller, meaning its bulk would be less imposing than the BB&T, Tessier said.

Ellington Partners plans to donate a small percentage of real estate sales for the project to a nonprofit fund to support affordable housing in the Asheville area. The hotel would be designed with a number of environmentally friendly features, Tessier said.

The hotel would bring even more activity to already-bustling Biltmore Avenue, and partners say it would employ about 100 people.

Neighbors weigh in

Two nearby merchants said the hotel would be good for business but have mixed feelings about such a large structure.

The hotel would be a little big, said John Cram, owner of Blue Spiral 1 art gallery and the Fine Arts Theatre, but will probably have panache, style.

Having 125 hotel rooms across the street would be great for Barleys Taproom & Pizzeria, co-owner Doug Beatty said. But he worries that Asheville is turning more and more into what people are moving away from as development continues at a rapid pace.

Stephanie Monson, staffer to the Downtown Commission, said members had generally positive comments at a meeting last week on the way architects handled the height and massing of the building but had concerns about a vehicle entrance for the hotel on Biltmore Avenue.

Cars would be able to drive into the building from Biltmore and exit onto Aston Street. Four levels of parking accessible from Lexington Avenue would be located underneath.

Architects are expected to return with more definite plans for a formal review by the commission in the next 30 to 60 days, Tessier and Monson said.

City rules dont require approval for the project to proceed, but opposition by the commission would be a significant liability for the project when it comes time for City Council to consider it.

by Mark Barrett, MBARRETT@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM published April 20, 2007 12:15 am

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