The city-of-Asheville-owned parcel of property measures just shy of 1 acre. It’s prime real estate along Haywood Street in downtown Asheville across from the U.S. Cellular Center and the Basilica of St. Lawrence. The property is roughly the shape of a triangle, with its top pointing at the historic basilica.
Since 2001, plans to develop the property have been debated, argued, fussed over, voted on and tossed out. Everyone from Asheville city officials (parking deck) to church officials (apartments and green space) to outside developers (boutique hotel) to preservationists (city park) have made a pitch. Nothing has stuck.
Soon, the property will be up for sale. Again.
Sam Powers, economic developer for the city of Asheville, said Friday that the city plans to hire a consultant to firm up a plan for how to proceed. There are previous documents to pore over, there are “stakeholder engagements” to commence and there is an official request for proposals to send out. Asheville City Council could vote to move ahead with the consultant as early as at its Feb. 24 meeting.
Interest in the parcel from developers has remained relatively high since a 2012 deal to sell the property to hotelier John McKibbon of McKibbon Group fell apart the following year (Asheville City Council actually voted to sell the parcel for $2.526 million), Powers said. Powers said his office gets about one call every couple of weeks from a developer who has heard about the property, he said. Most of the calls come from the developers in the hospitality industry, he said.
Once everything gets rolling, it could take 18 months before an dirt is turned on a new development project, Powers said. It’s unclear what, if anything, city officials plan to do with the property in the meantime. A dilapidated building and parking deck on the site has been demolished. The site is now a fenced surface parking lot.
Here’s a quick look at some of the highlights in the wrangling over the years
-2001: City of Asheville acquires parcels and announces plan to build a parking deck. Some residents, noting the presence of the large civic center deck nearby, object, citing traffic concerns. The basilica community objects, noting that ground-shaking construction work and added traffic could damage its treasured dome, which is already in need to structural reinforcement work. Preservationists, meantime, began a grassroots effort to build support for turning the area into a park and pedestrian-friendly zone.
-2007: The city sends out requests for proposals to develop the site. McKibbon responds with a plan to build a 140-room hotel. McKibbon offers $1.7 million. The Basilica offers its plan for apartments/green space and $1 million. In the meantime, the economy tanks.
-2012: Asheville City Council votes 4-2 to sell the property to McKibbon, who plans to develop a hotel and promises to include an ample plaza to space the hotel from the Basilica. Council takes its action despite a forceful plea from the local activist group People Advocating Real Conservancy, which provides a petition as evidence that the public wants a park on the land.
-2013: After years of expressing interest and investing tens of thousands of dollars in proposals, McKibbon walks away. His stated reason is a lawsuit filed by three neighboring hotels seeking to block the deal. In their lawsuit, Renaissance Asheville, Four Points Sheraton and Hotel Indigo contend city officials did not follow state law governing private sales and sold the Haywood Street lot for less than fair market value.