Blog :: 05-2007

New Life For Asheville's River District



5/31/2007 - New Life For Asheville's River District
by ACT

ASHEVILLE Pattiy Torno thought she had found the perfect spot for a rock club back in 1989 except for all the crime that came with the abandoned industrial sites along the French Broad River in Asheville.

When we got here, the first thing I did was put new roofs on the buildings, then I put bars on all the windows, said Torno, a fabric artist who later renovated the buildings to become her home and Curve Studios along the French Broad River.

In the decade since, the prostitution, break-ins and drug dealing died down while artist studios, clubs and restaurants flourished.

But Torno fears the old problems are pushing their way back, as evidence in one way by the intoxicated man threatened her in her garden.

Torno believes the ultimate solution is a large private development project. Others sharing in the dream of a vibrant riverfront arent so sure.

Their varying ideas should find center stage this summer when high-end subdivision developer, an environmental group and others begin exchanging ideas with the subdivision and land planning company Design Workshop. That process could lead to more public discussion on what to do with Ashevilles last development frontier.

The only way the river is going to be a place that I can enjoy is if there are people living down here normally, Torno said.

Ryan Blau with Design Workshop said that some of the exercise will be academic but that real solutions could emerge. Part of the process will involve charrettes, a public presentation and discussion about design

Part of the beauty of these charrettes is that they are unencumbered by the politics and some of the ideas that have failed in the past. So they will have a fresh eye. And certainly they will be thinking with big picture, Blau said.

Past charrettes put on by the company in other cities have produced ideas that the cities and other organizations can pick up on, he said. This one could provide a framework for what should be protected in the district and what it should look like in the future, he said.

A big offer

Private developers have made offers, those involved with the district say.

One of the largest and not widely known proposals, came two years ago in the amount of $120 million from Kent Smith, who worked on the Cliffs Communities and whose Global Development Resources is building the 132-home Thoms Estate in Beaverdam.

Smith, an Asheville resident, said he wants to see the district improved and is willing to risk a minefield of polluted land, flood dangers, unyielding railroad rights of way and jockeying interests.

It is going to take trying to get all of the different people that have individual agendas associated with the riverfront to soften those individual agendas for the good of the riverfront, he said

Investors expressed interest in his proposal in 2005, he said, before timing and competing ideas scuttled the project.

Environmental group says no

RiverLink, a nonprofit whose goal is economic and environmental revitalization of the district, owned some of the property vital to Smiths proposal. Executive Director Karen Cragnolin said RiverLink turned down the idea because the organization wanted a developer with experience in cleaning polluted brownfields and building around existing uses.

A lot of developers like Kent say they are not interested unless they can put together 20 or 30 acres. Im not sure that is what a lot of the people down there want, she said.

Unlike Torno, Cragnolin said small investments are still out there and that she recently helped some artists by property at Haywood and Roberts streets.

A special tax district?

City officials have gotten involved with the district recently by changing the way things can be built by the river and considering the idea of a special tax district.

The City Council voted this year to approve a new zoning district that proponents hope will bring denser, more urban-style development to the riverfront. Mayor Terry Bellamy has talked of a special tax district that could be on the cusp of the riverfront area.

Why not east riverside, Bellamy said when asked about a possible location for the tax financing district. The district would pledge its increased future tax value to borrow money for infrastructure improvements.

Rising rent, losing artists

Some users of the district fear larger projects would push out artists and other creative groups, changing an area that has served as an inventive incubator for Asheville.

One casualty could be the Recyclery, a bicycle recycling and give-away center, said volunteer Tammy Martin. After an anonymous call about possible building cod e violations in the area, city officials told the Recyclery it will have to make major upgrades to its rented space or move.

The rent around here is going up, and it is taking away a lot of its originality, and soon it will be a place that is less creative, less inspired, Martin said of the district.

Smith said he would like to see a project that would prevent that kind of displacement. The developer said he would use some of the profits from a project to provide rent subsidies and give money for building facelifts.

You cant go in there and do what we are talking about doing and disrupt those who have gone before, he said.

Redevelopment tried before

Whether changes suggested by the Design Workshop interns will make a difference remains to be seen. Redevelopment ideas for the district have been created, often to gather dust. Such plans date to at least 1989, when RiverLink used a federal grant for a concept that called for a whitewater paddling course and a unique zoning district. Others followed, including a study of the Interstate 26 corridor and the Wilma Dykeman Riverway Master Plan in 2003. Parts were realized, such as a new zoning district and park facilities. But most were unfulfilled.

Sign of progress

One larger project on the cusp of the district is moving ahead the planned renovation of the Glenrock Hotel and the addition of 185 townhouses, condominiums and apartments by Mountain Housing Opportunities. The sale of city-owned land around Ralph Street cleared the way for the $32.5 million to $42.5 million project by the affordable housing nonprofit. Some users of the district said they look forward to such projects that will include mid-priced homes and community space.


by Joel Burgess, JBURGESS@CITIZEN-TIMES.COM published May 31, 2007 Asheville Citizen Times

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Historic Asheville S&W Update



5/29/2007 - Historic Asheville S&W Update

ASHEVILLE A developers plan would have meals served once again inside the old S&W Cafeteria building, with people living in condominiums on top of the downtown landmark.

The plans by Steve Moberg have backing from some preservationists, but not without concerns about adding another floor to the structure on Patton Avenue near Pritchard Park.

An upscale restaurant and a coffeehouse would occupy the first two floors with about 10 condominiums above.

The S&W is one of the citys best-known Art Deco structures but has been empty for years. Architect Douglas Ellington, who was also responsible for the design of the City Building, First Baptist Church and Asheville High School, designed it.

The building served as one of the most popular places to gather downtown for decades in the middle of the 20th century.

Part of a chain of cafeterias in Southern cities founded in Charlotte by two men who served as mess sergeants together in World War I, the building was completed in 1929 after the stock market crash.

The building was about

five-sixths finished and we didnt know anything to do but go ahead, chain co-founder Frank Sherrill told a reporter in 1973.

The S&W closed downtown in 1974, and, like much of the citys downtown retail trade at the time, moved to the Asheville Mall. The building has seen several uses since but has been vacant for some time. Saplings can be seen growing from niches in its front wall.

Moberg developed the Lexington Station condominium and retail complex nearing completion on South Lexington Avenue and said he has had his eye on the S&W.

I drive by that building every day. I love that building, he said. Its a shame to see it sit there every day and nobody doing anything with it.

The additional space is needed before a renovation of the building makes economic sense, Moberg said.

The numbers dont work to pay what were paying for the building and not add on, he said.

Moberg would not say how much the project will cost. The work does not need approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission or the City Council.

Plans call for having the restaurant done in September.

Moberg said he plans to remove some light fixtures added more recently inside the building. The main dining area and balcony will be used for an upscale chophouse or something similar with a coffeehouse next door that would serve breakfast and lunch, he said.

Condominiums would go in the existing third floor and the addition.

The Historic Resources Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County approved plans earlier this month that show a floor of condominiums added to the roof of the building with a raised roof on top of that designed to hide heating and air conditioning units.

The addition would be set back more than 16 feet from the front of the building, and much of it would be hidden by the existing blue-green parapet wall that rises about nine feet from roof level.

That means the addition wouldnt be visible on the sidewalk in front of the building, said HRC Executive Director Stacy Merten, but it could be seen from farther away.

Rough simulations submitted to the HRC show the addition clearly visible from the intersection of Haywood and College streets and farther back on Haywood. The Central United Methodist Church tower can also be seen behind it.

HRC Chairman Jay Winer said HRC members simply followed federal guidelines for historic renovations when considering the plans.

But HRC member John Cram, who was on the short end of an 8-2 vote to approve the project, said hes not happy with what he sees so far.

The S&W is definitely a crown jewel for Asheville architectural history and I think there are numerous ways to handle an addition that would be better, he said.

Curtis Walk, an architect and former HRC member, had a similar assessment. And, John Horton, a Brevard architect who was formerly restoration specialist for the State Historic Preservation Office, said he is skeptical (that) the plans as shown would qualify for tax credits given to renovations of historic buildings that follow the same guidelines the HRC is supposed to use.

Its not as bad as it could be, Horton said, but federal and state regulators would want more information before approving plans.

Merten said Moberg has committed to working with the HRC to make final choices on materials for the addition. The idea is that the addition will appear to the eye to be a separate building between the S&W and the church tower looming behind it, Merten said.

Moberg said columns and piers to support more stories protrude out of th e building roof and original plans show more floors. His plans, he said, are very tasteful and a better solution than letting the building continue to deteriorate.

Its a beautiful building, but were not going to do anything to take away from that, he said.


by Mark Barnett Asheville Citizen Times

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sheville Ranked Top City Once Again



5/9/2007 - Asheville Ranked Top City Once Again

Cities Ranked & Rated, which ranked more than 400 U.S. metro areas in, has placed Asheville in the top 10 cities in the country!
The 2007 list of the top places to live appears in the second edition of the 848-page book co-written by Bert Sperling of Sperling's Best Places and Frommer guidebook writer Peter Sanders. Judges factored in 10 major criteria in determining the rankings economy and jobs; cost of living; climate; education; health and healthcare; crime; transportation; leisure; arts and culture; and overall quality of life.

In the 2007 rankings, the authors gave more weight to affordable housing and reasonable commuting times. "Two-hour commutes, one-way, are no longer uncommon, according to Sperling.

Here are the lists top 10 cities:

  1. Gainesville, Fla.
  2. Bellingham, Wash.
  3. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash.
  4. Colorado Springs, Colo.
  5. Ann Arbor, Mich.
  6. Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
  7. Asheville, N.C.
  8. Fort Collins-Loveland, Colo.
  9. San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, Calif.
  10. Boise City-Nampa, Idaho

Source: USA Today, Bob Minzesheimer (05/08/07)

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