Blog :: 06-2008

Asheville's Charms Create Alluring Real Estate



6/30/2008 - Asheville's Charms Create Alluring Real Estate

Asheville, N.C., has no ski resort. No ocean, either. Other than that, it's hard to think of anything the city and its surroundings are lacking. The appeals are so numerous that tourism is the No. 1 employer. Even the minor league baseball team, with its charming downtown ballpark, is named the Tourists.

Basically created by the ultra-wealthy Vanderbilt family, Asheville is steeped in history and tradition, yet effortlessly mixes old with new. The old is represented by Biltmore Village and the Biltmore, the largest private home in the United States and a popular attraction offering guided tours. The new is a number of residential developments surrounding the city, mixing themes such as wellness, boating and golf. Even the golf offerings span the ages: Four courses are by the renowned classic designer, Donald Ross, and construction is underway on the first U.S. design by Tiger Woods. The downtown showcases classic facades and preserved architecture, while the past decade has seen a renaissance with an influx of cafes, art galleries, shops and restaurants. The cultural scene is enhanced by a University of North Carolina campus.

Despite the city's charms, escape to the surrounding protected wilderness is an ever-present lure.

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Downtown Asheville's Newest Lounge



6/30/2008 - Downtown Asheville's Newest Lounge

The Rankin Vault plans to open in a week or so and will be downtown Asheville's newest lounge. It's situated on Rankin Avenue behind Table restaurant in the same building.

From what I could see, the space looks cozy and comfortable. And it has some neat history. The building used to house a mortgage company, and the space for the lounge used to be home to a giant vault.

Here's more from the Rankin Vault's blog:

The guys just signed the lease on the space yesterday (7 Rankin Ave - in the same building as Table). They will convert the space from its current form as an art gallery into an upscale cocktail lounge featuring seating (and a flat-screen TV) in the old 11' by 16' vault that was a part of the original owner's mortagage company.

Curious about the vault itself, I started doing some research on the original insurance company: Imperial Life Insurance Company. The building was built in 1925. Interestingly enough, one of the founders was the maternal grandfather of novelist and great patron of North Carolina arts and literature John Ehle. If you haven't read any of Ehle's novels about Western North Carolina, you are missing one of the greats. His novels clearly show he is a man who wrote ahead of his time.

But back to the building. It sits on the corner of College Street and Rankin Avenue, but back in the 1920s, College Street was actually called Government Street.

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Asheville Adds Another Brewery to Its Already Vibrant Scene



6/30/2008 - Asheville Adds Another Brewery to Its Already Vibrant Scene

It was just a few weeks ago that Ashevilles latest microbrewery The Wedge Brewing Co. opened down on the French Broad River waterfront. Now, yet another brewery is under construction downtown.

Craggie Brewing Co. (yes, thats how its spelled) is on Hilliard Avenue, in what has become Ashevilles unofficial brewing district. Asheville Brewing Co. is just around the corner on Coxe Avenue, and Green Man Brewing is down the hill on Buxton Street.

For those who are keeping count, Craggie is the seventh brewing company (and eighth brewery) in Buncombe County. The others are Highland, French Broad, Pisgah, Green Man, Asheville Pizza and Brewing and its sister Asheville Brewing and The Wedge.

The masterminds behind Craggie are Bill Drew and Jonathan Cort, who both previously worked for Highland Brewing and have a true passion for beer. Last weekend, they hosted an invitation-only drop-in party, where they sampled homebrew versions of their hefeweizen, dunkel, Belgian amber ale and golden ale. They were delicious, well-crafted, and were mostly true sessions beers, flavorful, but light enough alcohol to enjoy several in a sitting.

Building a brewery takes time Drew and Cort hope to get open before the year is done. Meanwhile, raise a toast to this new microbrewery and the booming local beer scene.

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Asheville's Summer Festival Returns



6/27/2008 - Asheville's Summer Festival Returns

As Asheville grows in leaps and bounds, the role of Shindig on the Green stays wonderfully the same: preserving mountain heritage, sharing the dance and music, staging family entertainment and providing a place for mountain musicians to learn, network and jam.

Through most of Shindigs 42-year history, the Stoney Creek Boys have been there as the house band. The lineup has changed some, and Shindig has grown itself (some 3,000-5,000 fans turn out each week). But dont let the numbers fool you; its a small town mountain hoedown at heart.

Clyde Cable (the original Stoney Creek Boys fiddler) and Arvil Freeman (current fiddler with the band) share some thoughts on this much-loved event.

Question: How did you start playing Shindig?

Clyde Cable: I won the fiddle contest at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in 1968 and met Jackie Ward (the festival director). I went back in 69 and Jackie talked me into coming to play at this new event she was trying to organize downtown. I told her Id round up a few friends and come to play.

Q: Do you remember the first Shindig?

Cable: There werent many spectators. We used to jam at Westgate (shopping center) but it got bad with drugs and alcohol and I think that is why they wanted to start something new. There was just a little temporary stage low to the ground, facing the courthouse. There wasnt a regular band at first and they didnt have clogging the first summer. It wasnt very long before they built a dance stage and started having street dances with audience participation and started having it every Saturday night through Labor Day.

Q: When did the Stoney Creek Boys start?

Cable: We formed our group in 69, with me on fiddle, Boyd Black (current bass player) on bass, Ervin Penland on banjo, Bill Scroggs on guitar. Ervin gave the group its name; he loved a fiddle tune called Stoney Creek.

Q: How did you become the house band for the Shindig and Mountain Dance and Folk Festival?

Cable: It was the summer of 1974. The clogging teams complained that the music wasnt standardized and gave some teams an unfair advantage in competitions. When we won best band in 1973 at the (Mountain Dance and Folk Festival) and Jackie asked us if we would be a house band in 74. There were two house bands that first year, we played for clogging teams and Johnny Rhymer, of Fairview, played for smooth dancers. After that, we played for all the teams. Our banjo player, Ervin, was an auxiliary deputy sheriff and he was killed in a car wreck in February of 1974. Tom McKinney took his place a short while, then Bucky Hanks. The long runs been with George Banks on banjo and Leonard Hollifield on guitar, Boyd on bass, since around 75, 76 maybe? I think I left in 94 (after 25 years as fiddler). Mack Snodderly played two years and then Arvil Freeman.

Q: What was Shindig like in 96?

Arvil Freeman: It hasnt changed that much, just different people come. The crowds are bigger; we have thousands who come. There are still a lot of people playing and jamming, but there are a lot of duos and trios playing as opposed to full bands.

Q: You won Western Carolina Universitys heritage award in 2007 for preserving (mountain) music. Will it continue?

Freeman: Definitely so, especially the fiddle, I see people taking up the fiddle more than anything else. Back in the early days of the Shindig you didnt see many young fiddle players, 12 or 14 years old. Now they are all over the place at Shindig. At one time, everybody had a banjo and a guitar in their house and they seem to have dwindled down a bit.

Q: Why are there fewer bands?

Freeman: I think people are too busy. Its harder to keep five people together in a band than two or three. When I started, everybody came as a full band or made one up there, there werent many solos and duos.

Q: Is the Shindig important to mountain music?

Freeman: It is the most important thing weve got as far as holding the traditions together. Everything from the old days is slipping away from us but the Shindig is holding it together.

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Asheville Real Estate Appeals to Athletes



6/19/2008 - Asheville Real Estate Appeals to Athletes

A second home in the western Carolinas is an outdoorsman's paradise.

It's easy to find hot-boiled-peanut stands, fireworks emporia and barbecue shacks in the western Carolinas. The recent wave of multimillion-dollar communities is a little harder to spot, with rustic-looking gatehouses tucked along Blue Ridge mountain roads. Country here still feels like country, good news for a sportsman looking for a second home--but more interested in what's outside his front door.

That would be a landscape of mountains, lakes and streams, and unspoiled forest overflowing with trails and everything from pigmy salamanders to black bear. There are nearly one million acres of national- and state-protected land in the 50-square-mile stretch between Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina--plenty of wilderness to fly-fish and white-water paddle, to mountain- and road-bike, to hike and horseback ride. The hydropower lakes west of Greenville add boating and waterskiing, and, of course, there's lots of golf in the neighborhood: rolling mountain routes that have inspired Tiger Woods to build his first North American course near Asheville.

The climate here is mild year-round, but high season is the summer, when the mountains stay refreshingly cool. So now is the time for a visit, and here are three sporting-focused developments worth a look.

The Cliffs

If Tiger Woods hadn't come along, Cliffs founder Jim Anthony says he wouldn't have built another golf course. The Cliffs communities already had seven: including two Tom Fazio courses, a pair designed by Jack Nicklaus and one from Gary Player under construction. All are within an hour's drive of one another, playable only by Cliffs owners and their guests. That's a lot of golf. Anthony and his marketing team had been busy focusing on "wellness" (private doctors at beck and call, nature hikes, organic vegetables on the clubhouse menu, Pilates galore).

But then Woods flew in to see the Cliffs' latest acquisition, nearly 1,500 acres above Asheville called High Carolina. Woods knew of the Cliffs communities' reputation and was looking for a North American debut. "He walked around, saw the site and got back on his plane," says Anthony. "He said to his guys, do this deal and don't blank it up."

According to rumor, Anthony offered Woods something close to $50 million (in cash and real estate) to close that deal. Whatever he paid, the Cliffs now have eight private courses, and plenty of Tiger-fueled interest amid a slowing second-home market. "We're impressed," says Dan Geenen, who traveled from Milwaukee with his wife, Carol, and four young kids to take a look at the three Cliffs developments on South Carolina's Lake Keowee. "It's not house next to house next to house. You don't see that very often."

The Cliffs communities are indeed nicely low-density, with scenic golf courses, the newest of which have few homesites crowding the fairways. Despite an embarrassing flak over Anthony's waste-water dumping proposal for the new Cliffs at Mountain Park (he's since revised the plans), his developments have a reputation for environmentalism, including a partnership with Clemson University to develop more sustainable golf course management practices.

"We're in the forefront of conservation in golf course design," says Anthony. "We want Tiger Woods' course to be the greenest golf course built in America."

Homesites starting from $300,000.

Pla D'Adet

The mountain roads of the western Carolinas are a cyclist's paradise. Lance Armstrong trained here for his Tour de France victories. George Hincapie, U.S. National 2006 champ, lives in Greenville, the site of the country's top pro race for the past two years. And soon to break ground is Pla d'Adet, which is surely the world's first luxury cycling village.

Laid out across 300 acres north of Greenville, along a popular local ride to the sleepy town of Saluda, Pla d'Adet is offering 97 homesites surrounding a 40,000-square-foot Hincapie Performance Training Center, built into a hillside. George Hincapie and his brother Richard are partners in the development (which is named after George's career-highlight '05 Tour stage win in the Pyrenees), and they designed the Center's somewhat unusual set of amenities.

"Lactic acid testing, anaerobic threshold testing, high-altitude training rooms," says Richard. "We want to replicate the life of a pro athlete for the everyday person." There will also be an indoor 25-meter training pool and a four-mile rubberized running track throughout the property, with specialized multisport coaches available for triathletes.

"This is for the guy that says, 'Instead of golf courses I want 500 miles of road around me,'" says Bill West, a wealthy telecom industry retiree, who now leads Pla d'Adet's sales effort. No plush "discovery" office here; West takes prospective buyers on grueling rides in the area in an attempt to convince them to make a homesite reservation. "They love it," says West. "These are guys who have been to Hilton Head and said, 'That's not me. This is me. I'm a cyclist and I want to hang out with cyclists.'"

Homesites starting from $400,000.

Balsam Mountain Preserve

Balsam Mountain Preserve does have a golf course--a terraced mountain route designed by Arnold Palmer--but to give you an idea of this 4,400-acre development's priorities, there are more naturalists than golf pros on staff. "There happens to be a golf course in an incredible mountain setting," says Balsam's president, Craig Lehman. "This is so much more than golf."

Top on the menu would be hiking and fly-fishing, both available on the property, spread along a mountainside 45 minutes west of Asheville. There are 50 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding (stables and pasture land for buyers with horses are on site). It's easy to get lost in the woods at Balsam--there are even primitive camping cabins for overnights--thanks to the 3,000 acres protected in a nonprofit conservation easement, which will have property owners and area naturalists as trustees.

Off-property, the hiking and fishing get even better. The half-million acres of the Nantahala National Forest abut the property line to the south, the Blue Ridge Parkway is to the north and the expansive Great Smoky Mountains National Park lies west.

With all that protected land in view, Balsam feels retreatlike and remote; even the Boarding House and cabins, where owners and their guests may stay, strike a convincingly rustic, and comfortable, note. There's a palpable emphasis here on nature and wildlife, reinforced by Michael Skinner, Balsam's chief naturalist, whose Nature Center has kid-friendly hands-on exhibits, two fearsome pit vipers and a magnificent 15-year-old bald eagle named Spirit. Skinner and his staff have been cataloging the property's impressive biodiversity, creating a checklist for owners that includes 115 bird species and 700 vascular plant species--"throw in mosses and mushrooms, and you're over 1,000," says Skinner.

Homesites starting from $425,000. www.balsam


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Asheville's Pritchard Park Performances Begin



6/18/2008 - Asheville's Pritchard Park Performances Begin

Maybe youve been soothed by the strains of Wind Motikas calming flute. Perhaps youve gyrated with the Asheville Hoops women. Or you might have just jammed with some of the other musicians taking their turn.

Programming the park: Wind Motika performed his flute music in Pritchard Park recently as part of a slate of performances by local musicians and artists aimed at transforming how the park is used. Photo By Jason Sandford

Its all happening in Pritchard Park as part of an ongoing effort to make the park friendlier to downtown residents, workers and tourists. The cultural-arts programming, which started this month and is scheduled to run through September, is the latest move in the remaking of the triangular park in downtown Asheville.

A city committee spent a year studying ideas to rejuvenate the park, and settled on a couple of ideas. Earlier this year, the city hired a park ranger with a $29,000 annual salary to help police the area. And City Council agreed to waive permits and fees and put another $10,000 in taxpayers money toward an effort to bring in artists and musicians. The committee raised $15,000 from private donors for the parks arts programs.

I think its the citys responsibility to provide programming to activate its parksto lead the waybut the city cant do it without help, says Kitty Love, who is managing the park programming and works as executive director of the nonprofit Arts 2 People. Love wants to see downtown workers and residents support the scheduled events. Shes also looking for an additional $15,000 in support.

Musicians play lunchtime gigs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and there are some evening events scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Love has openings and encourages artists and musicians to sign up.

She is also working on organizing an artists market that would be held Saturdays through the summer. Its the beginning of my vision of what Asheville needs, which is a Berkeley market, where people can bring anything and everything, Love says, noting the funky California college towns sprawling market of artists and street vendors.

The goal: Transform the way the park is used. You cant wait for the park to be perfect. People need to come and support the activities, says Love, who sees larger possibilities.

The bigger picture is a rejuvenation of the entire grassroots arts community. The more that those emerging, creative entrepreneurs are getting paid for their work, the more it encourages the creative arts that everyone loves.

The Pritchard Park Cultural Arts Program will hold a kick-off celebration in the part from noon to 3 p.m. on Friday, June 20, featuring Jen and the Juice, The Honeycutters and the Galen Kipar Project.

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Condo Complex Adds to Asheville Real Estate



6/18/2008 - Condo Complex Adds to Asheville Real Estate

ASHEVILLE Robert Rice recognized the potential of Canterbury Heights as soon as he saw it. The location, just minutes from downtown, yet in the country, was perfect, said Rice, who owns the complex and is converting the apartments into condos.

The predominantly brick construction gave the buildings substance and character and the creative floor plans offered a variety of choices, Rice explained. Most importantly, the property could be purchased at a price that would allow us to offer high-quality, extremely affordable homes.

The apartments were built in the early 1970s. Rice, of Orion Realty Advisors in Brookfield, Wis., purchased the property two years ago and has been converting the units to condos as they sell. Several one-four bedroom units are available now, with prices starting at $74,000. The annual homeowners fee includes water, exterior maintenance and an insurance policy.

There is nothing like it this close to town, said Eve Burton, a sales agent with Beverly-Hanks. Its a good opportunity for people to become homeowners.

There are 26 buildings, with 4-6 units in each building, situated on 13.5 acres. It feels really spacious the way it is set out on the property, Burton said.

The property features plenty of trees, an outdoor pool, a 24-hour fitness center and a playground.

All of the amenities are newly constructed, Rice said. Pool construction is just underway and the fitness center and playground were recently completed.

Two pets are allowed per unit. There is no weight restriction on pets, but they must be kept inside the unit.

I chose the name Canterbury Heights because Canterbury Tales has long been a favorite of mine and I saw some similarities between Chaucers group of travelers who banded together for protection, convenience and companionship while each maintaining their own agenda and the condominium form of ownership, Rice said.

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Asheville Farm and Garden Tour Nears



6/18/2008 - Asheville Farm and Garden Tour Nears

ASHEVILLE The Mountain Farm and Garden Tour coming up June 28-29 offers people a chance to visit Western North Carolina farmers to see where and how local food is grown.

The tour will feature 29 farms in five counties, including Hickory Nut Gap and Black Mountain Community Garden in Buncombe County; Queens Produce and Berry Farm in Transylvania County; and Sunset Valley Farm in Madison County, among others.

(The Farm and Garden Tour) gets people to the farm to see where and how food is grown in the region, helps them appreciate the beauty and work of farming, and lets them connect personally with farmers, said Elizabeth Gibbs, of Firefly Farm in Burnsville, who helps organize the event.

Besides farms, gardens share the spotlight. I want to show our gardens, not only because theyre beautiful, but because theyre on an urban scale, said Eve Davis, of the Hawk and Ivy bed and breakfast in Barnardsville. They let people see that they dont have to have a huge farm to grow their own food.

It costs $25 per car to visit all farms, or $10 per car to visit an individual farm.

Tour buttons and maps are on sale at many local tailgate markets, Greenlife Grocery, West End Bakery, the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, French Broad Food Co-op, Reems Creek Nursery and from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.

For more information, call 236-1282 or visit

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Asheville Tops List of Affordable & Desirable Real Estate Markets



6/16/2008 - Asheville Tops List of Affordable & Desirable Real Estate Markets

Look for a strong economy, a college and low crime in your search for an area where you can afford to live.

Every week or so, I get an e-mail that runs like this:

"My husband and I are teachers in north San Diego County and we would like to live here for decades. However, our salaries are not enough to buy any of the houses we have seen. What advice can you give us?"

Swap "teachers" for any number of moderately-paid professions, and "north San Diego County" for any number of insanely overpriced real-estate markets, and you have a lot of people in the same uncomfortable boat.

For many, the options are these:

  • Continue to rent -- and despair;
  • Stretch your finances to the limit with an oversized, risky mortgage and suffer from ulcers for the next 10 years;
  • Look for somewhere else to live.

If you're ready to consider Door No. 3, read on for some options.

We asked Bert Sperling of Sperling's Best Places fame to help compile a list of places where homes are relatively cheap, the cost of living is affordable and the local economy is going strong.

Economies are important, since robust ones typically mean plenty of opportunities and growing incomes. Strong economies also tend to lead to better quality of life, Sperling said, by lowering crime and divorce rates, along with other ills.

But we were looking for something else -- that spark, that liveliness, that extra something that makes a city, however big or small, an interesting place to be. Because let's face it, there's still plenty of cheap real estate out there; the problem is that it's in places few people would want to live.

Our chosen cities range in size from the pretty small (Prescott, Ariz.) to the almost-big (Austin, Texas); no huge metropolis made the cut. All eight have a university presence, and three of the eight are also state capitals. Government and university jobs can help provide economic stability in good times and bad, while the college presence almost always enlivens a town.

"A college or university can boost any town from good to great," said Sperling, co-author of "Best Places to Raise Your Family: The Top 100 Affordable Communities in the U.S." "There's the vibrancy of the college scene, arts and lecture series, concerts (both touring and student-produced), guest professors, literary events, classes to audit, and not least, college sports, which some prefer to pro sports."

All our choices also have their drawbacks, just like anyplace else. What they have going for them, though, makes them worth checking out.

Asheville, N.C.

How Asheville compares

Asheville U.S. average


Median home price



Median household income



Cost-of-living index






Future job growth



Asheville has the interesting distinction, Sperling notes, of being named a "best place" by both Rolling Stone and Modern Maturity magazines. That's because it's popular with artists and musicians as well as with retirees who like the vibrant art scene, beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain scenery and the abundance of recreational activities. The 3,500-student University of North Carolina at Asheville offers cultural and intellectual stimulation.

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Gene Hackman to Visit Asheville



6/16/2008 - Gene Hackman to Visit Asheville

Two-time Oscar-winning actor Gene Hackman is coming to Asheville for a reading and book signing event at Malaprops Bookstore.

Hackman and his writing partner Daniel Lenihan will appear at 7 p.m. June 26 to promote their book Escape From Andersonville: A Novel of the Civil War. Tickets are $10, which admit two people to the reading, and also include a $5 discount toward the purchase of the book.

Hackman has had a long and very successful film acting career. He won Academy Awards for Best Actor for the 1972 classic The French Connection, and Best Supporting Actor for the 1993 Clint Eastwood western Unforgiven. He was also Oscar-nominated for Mississippi Burning, I Never Sang For My Father and Bonnie and Clyde.

Hackman, who began appearing in TV roles in the late 1950s and early 1960s, also appeared in such films as the original The Poseidon Adventure, A Bridge Too Far, Reds, Hoosiers, The Royal Tenenbaums and many others. He also co-starred with Dan Aykroyd and Dom DeLuise in the 1990 comedy Loose Cannons, which was partly filmed in Western North Carolina. Hackman has said that hes now retired from acting.

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