6/27/2007 - Haywood Park complex sold for $18.5 million
ASHEVILLE - The owner of Westgate shopping center has purchased downtown's Haywood Park complex for $18.5 million and is eyeing changes to the property.
The complex includes the 33-room Haywood Park Hotel, the Flying Frog Café, adjoining office, several retail locations and about 125 parking spaces. The purchase is one of the largest downtown in recent memory.
The buyer, a company owned by Tony Fraga, whose FIRC Group also owns Westgate, announced plans in March for a mixed-use project to be called Main Street at Biltmore Lake in Enka. The company also has substantial real estate interests in south Florida.
Fraga said it is too early to say what he might do with the property, which covers roughly 2 acres. It might make sense, he said, to expand the 33-room hotel or bring residential space to the complex but he said there are no concrete plans.
Sellers in the deal that closed Monday were Joe Kimmel's Kimmel Development Group and Haywood Street Redevelopment Corp. Kimmel heads Kimmel & Associates, an executive search firm serving the construction industry that is based in a nearby building at 25 Page Ave. He received attention in 2005 for large donations to UNC Asheville and Western Carolina University.
Kimmel had bought most of the property, which has about 200,000 square feet of leasable office and retail space, in 2005. He said he originally planned to renovate the property, possibly in partnership with others, but ultimately decided Fraga had the experience to handle such a large project.
"I felt maybe I was the one to do something with these wonderful properties but I have found that I am not," Kimmel said at a press conference Tuesday.
The first renovation of a former department store building to become Haywood Park Hotel and adjoining properties for office and retail use, completed in 1985, was one of the first major redevelopment projects in downtown's rebirth.
When developer Robert Armstrong bought the properties, "Nothing was going on" downtown, recalled John Rogers, architect for the original project.
Rogers said a major market for the hotel was initially attorneys with business in U.S. District Court a couple of blocks away, but downtown's renewed popularity means there are plenty of tourists seeking rooms as well.
Kimmel said that, after buying a controlling interest in the properties, he had been discussing plans for changes with Armstrong but his efforts received a blow when Armstrong died unexpectedly.
He ultimately decided the property needed an owner with more development experience and said Tuesday he liked Fraga's "vision" for the property.
Fraga, who also announced this year plans to renovate Westgate and add residential and retail space there, said the Haywood Park deal is "the best acquisition of my lifetime and the biggest."
He said he intends "to develop this with respect and harmony (with) the surroundings."
Rogers said the interiors of the buildings are "pretty flexible" and could be converted to other uses and that a surface parking lot on Page Avenue is "a pregnant spot" ripe for development.
Fraga and Rogers said a larger hotel would create economies of scale.
Rogers said he hopes changes won't involve changes to the façade of the Haywood Park and buildings along Haywood Street.
"It's a significant downtown property. ... What happens there will be critical for what happens to that part of downtown," he said.