Plans to develop the property have been debated, argued, fussed over, voted on and tossed out for the past 15 years. 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. In February 2015, the city announced plans to put the property back up for sale, but that didn’t happen, as debate over the property’s future became a central issue in Asheville City Council elections. Two candidates that supported a proposal to make the property a public park space won election to City Council – Keith Young and Brian Haynes.
On Wednesday, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said that Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler will lead a group that once again seek public input on how the property, which is just under 1 acre, should be developed. “One idea is having a park design competition,” Manheimer said.
After hearing from the community, the city will decide what to do. “Paying for it is a whole ‘nother matter,” she said.
Ben Colvin, president of the Asheville Downtown Association, said the organization would be involved in the “visioning” process. Former association president Adrian Vassallo announced that the group had donated $5,000 toward the effort.
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.