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The Block, finally, lands $11.1M face-lift

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8/28/2012 - The Block, finally, lands $11.1M face-lift
by Dale Neal - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE - Terry Bellamy remembers as a little girl sipping soft drinks at the soda fountain in the old Del Cardo building down on The Block, "waiting on my grandmother to get her curl and press."

On Monday, Asheville's first black mayor stood at that same soda fountain, welcoming the news of a $11.1 million project that will restore economic life to The Block, the historic heart of black commerce and community in downtown.

"This has been 20 years in the making," Bellamy said.

The Del Cardo building at the corner of Eagle and Market Streets along with the Dr. Collette building and the Ritz Building on South Market will be renovated and incorporated into a 90,000-square-foot mixed-use complex -- the Eagle Market Place. Along with new commerical space, the $11.1 million project will include 62 affordable apartments with monthly rents ranging from $200 to $780.

Plans to renovate the historic buildings along Eagle and Market streets have come and gone over the years, but this project forged ahead through the partnership of and the Eagle Market Streets Development Corp. and Mountain Housing Opportunities, the local nonprofit builder of affordable housing.

Backed by $4.1 million funded by the city of Asheville and Buncombe County, the final piece of the puzzle feel into place on Thursday when the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency awarded $7 million in funding.

Keeping the historic buildings intact while adding new residential and commercial space was vital to the project's success, according to Stephanie

"The Block was known as the black Wall Street of Asheville," Twitty said. "This was the hub of everything African-American in this city."

The district was once home to 70 residences and 20 thriving businesses, including drugstores and hotels, before urban renewal efforts starting in the 1960s dislodged homeowners and businesspeople.

"This project will bring back 62 of those 70 residences and 15 to 20 of those businesses," Twitty said.

Buncombe County commissioners saw the importance of reviving The Block as an economic driver for downtown, said commission Chairman David Gantt.

"The people in the city pay the same (county) tax as the people in the county. We have to give back, particularly to a community that has been ignored," Gantt said. "This is the right and fair thing to do. We had forgotten about these folks and about the history here."

The project will generate some 500 construction jobs over the two-year build-out. Work should begin in June 2013 with the grand-opening slated for summer of June 2015.

"I look forward to the day when we cut the ribbon and open the doors," Bellamy said. "We'll welcome people."

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